by Nick Welsh
Santa Barbara city administrators have launched a facts-and-figures counterattack designed to refute claims made by the Police Officers Association (POA) in its recent media campaign to generate public support for its position in labor negotiations with City Hall. The POA declared an impasse two weeks ago, and mediation is scheduled to begin this week. Last week, the POA ran full-page ads in the Independent and Santa Barbara News-Press headlined, “Crisis at the Santa Barbara Police Department.” Those ads contended that Santa Barbara police officers were the worst paid of 12 comparable California departments, and warned that if present trends continue, the department could shrink from its current roster of 125 sworn officers to 100. In addition, the POA claims low pay has contributed to poor morale, which has fueled an alarming degree of turnover among experienced officers. That, in turn, has contributed to a rise in Class I crime statistics during the past five years. Jumping into the fray, Administrative Services Director Marcelo López countered that City Hall’s latest offer — 19 percent spread throughout three years — would make Santa Barbara cops better paid than their fellow officers with the Santa Barbara Sheriffs Department, and the Ventura City, Ventura County, Oxnard, Simi Valley, and Santa Monica police departments. López contended that the POA has understated the true cost to the city for the 28 percent pay increase the POA is now demanding. He claimed the real cost is 37 percent, though declined to provide details. But even at 28 percent, López and members of the City Council have objected that the police raise could be achieved only by eating into emergency reserves and the operating budgets of other departments. López took issue with POA claims of rapid turnover, stating the police department’s turnover rate was no higher than other departments at City Hall. “We are budgeted for 140 positions. We have 133. And we have 19 applicants for the vacant seven positions,” López stated. He acknowledged that some crime rates have increased during the past five years, but accused union officials of “statistical cherry picking,” insisting that crime is still well below what it was in 1996.