I’ve wondered how to approach the subject of the Hermosa Oil Recovery Project (Measure O, March 3, 2015) in this blog. Perhaps the Hermosa Beach Police Department POA’s endorsement of the project is a place to start.

I have long advocated for a community oriented policing approach in Hermosa, including officers on foot and bike to patrol the Pier and the Strand. Hermosa is more Mayberry than Gotham and I’d like to see our officers approach their jobs with less Batman and more Andy Griffith.

As a journalist and researcher, I covered and worked with the USDOJ COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program for a time and was struck by the positive impact approachable policing could have on a community. While I have heard that there was a time when Hermosa cops spent more time walking and talking and less time in black SUVs, that changed before I moved here.  It is not the officers’ fault that the primary experience with local police has become punitive. They are budget-stuck in their imposing SUVs. When patrolling the Strand or ready to pounce from the Pier, those SUVs evoke an occupying force more than a community partnership.

Hermosa would benefit greatly from officers that speak casually with the patrons at restaurants on the Pier and interact with residents and visitors while biking the Strand. There have always been organizational obstacles to winning police departments over to the COPS approach, despite its proven success, but in Hermosa the logistics of money is an added barrier.

Our city lives essentially paycheck-to-paycheck and the department lacks funding to dedicate foot or bike patrol officers where they would be appropriate. Instead, every officer on duty has to be able to cover the full breadth of the community in minutes. To do that they have to stay in or near those SUVs. In 2013, the ICMA Center for Public Safety Management, was commissioned to study HBPD operations.  They found that the department was significantly understaffed and struggled to “provide policing services to this area (the Pier/Strand) while simultaneously providing services to the remainder of the community.”

(Note: They did not find, as some claim, that the Pier/Strand required inordinate attention but only that current budgets did not allow for adequate police staffing to meet the entire community’s needs.)

A successful oil recovery project on a postage stamp industrial lot on Valley Drive could provide badly needed revenue, allowing the city to think more strategically about the future of public safety in Hermosa. It is likely that Tidelands Funds alone could pay for dedicated Strand/Pier patrols, freeing up city dollars to increase public safety coverage for the rest of town. While it is true that the construction would present a temporary inconvenience to all residents, the long term benefits of a fully-funded police department are significant and the long-term risks from the project minimal.

Because of this I am not surprised that Officer Jaime Ramirez said, “We believe that voting yes on Measure O is in the best interest of the citizens of Hermosa Beach and the city’s financial future. The independent studies approved by the city have shown that this project is safe and reliable. Measure O offers financial stability and a source of revenue that can help Hermosa Beach and its residents.”