Menifee is the second fastest-growing city in Riverside County, and the seventh fastest-growing in the state – and now, it’s building its own police force. KVCR’s Benjamin Purper has more.
Menifee incorporated in 2008 with a population of 65,000. Menifee City Manager Armando Villa says that number has increased significantly since then.
Villa: “Today, ten years forward, we've become a very desirable city for the developer community and for the new families, new residents. We are sitting about 94,000 residents now, we continue to grow about 3 and a half percent.”
Amidst all that growth, one thing became clear: Menifee was going to need its own police department instead of contracting with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Villa: “And for that our city council made a commitment to create all the things that we need to be a really good quality of life city and that means creating, having more local control of our policing efforts.”
But it’s not just a matter of quality of life. Villa says the cost of contracting with the sheriff’s department was escalating faster than the city’s revenues could keep up with.
Villa: “It would've meant that our contract would have gone from about $14 million to about $25 million a year, and that would've devastated the city because that is, $25 million is roughly about half of our general fund.”
So, Villa says, the city started looking into forming its own police department.
Villa: “And we were surprised to know that we could actually save some money. Substantially. And we could actually increase the level of service, and we could actually have better local control. All those things put together became very attractive for our city council, for us, and for the residents. So when we started having community meetings to tell the community and our council members about it, they just fell in love with it. And fast forward today, you're into it, we're very committed, very committed, and we're on pace to form our own police department July 1st, 2020.”
Pat Walsh is Menifee’s police chief. He says the burgeoning department won’t hire any rookies – at least, not at first.
Walsh: “So we're going to hire all laterals, which means experienced police officers, hopefully records technicians, community service offers, all professional staff. Because we don't have a training program, we don't even know who we have, you're looking at the only employee right now of the police department.”
Walsh says that gives him the opportunity to create the culture of the new department.
Walsh: “The folks that I'm talking to are excited about being a part of something new and we don't have any culture or any, this is how it used to be done or is done, we have none of that. So I get to create, we get to create the vision and the culture and hopefully the people we hire will be energetic, flexible, compassionate, ready to work hard, and everybody I've talked to, they're very excited about the prospect of being a brand-new police department.”
That brand-new police department, Walsh says, will be one focused on community policing – something the Sheriff’s department is too busy to really do.
Walsh: “There's nothing we do as police without the community. And so when I'm talking to young officers and they want to come work here - or any officer, really - they ask me what i'm looking for and I say look I want you to chase guys over fences and catch them but I also want you to stop and play basketball if you see them, and go into the Boys and Girls Club for five minutes and high-five the kids and talk to them, and then go out and write tickets for people who are running red lights. I want the whole package when it comes to officers.”
One area Walsh is particularly focused on is use of force – that is, when police officers use force against civilians.
Walsh: “I think it's really important that the community understands that we are not only allowed to use force in making arrests but it's actually an obligation to use force. When appropriate. And what I mean by that is when you look at officers that hesitate to use force when it should be used, the situation sometimes can escalate where now they gotta use a lot of force. So I want my officers to know that I want to intervene quickly, to be articulate, be able to use your words to try and calm things down and de-escalate, but if you have to use force use it quickly and decisively so that it doesn't get out of control.”
You can learn more about the new department at menifeepolice.org.
Benjamin Purper, Empire KVCR News.