At a recent community meeting in Hollywood Hills, residents told city leaders and police brass that they did not feel safe in their homes. Some questioned whether being down officers has resulted in more home and car thefts.
Acknowledging it can’t hire police officers fast enough, Hollywood will now offer current officers overtime shifts to fill the gaps.
“This is an immediate fix,” said Assistant City Manager Frank Fernandez, who oversees public safety.
Until the Police Department can get trained officers out on the streets, Hollywood can use the nearly $840,000 budgeted for 20 positions which remain vacant to pay the overtime costs.
By the end of this fiscal year – which ends Sunday – the department will have had 24 officers retire and eight resign.
The city has already hired 14 officers; four are in the academy and the remaining 10 are training with Hollywood officers.
From the time an officer applies to when they can actually be on the street is about a year Fernandez said.
And though there is an immediate need to fill positions, he said it is a process that cannot be rushed.
“We cannot compromise quantity for quality,” Fernandez said.
The city in the last year has had about 1,000 applicants for the 30-plus positions, City Spokeswoman Raelin Storey said.
A starting officer makes about $42,000.
For months, the city’s police union has been complaining that being short-staffed has affected protecting the residents.
While there are 20 vacant positions — positions the city can fill — there are also 20 frozen positions which it cannot. That means the department, which should have 334 officers, has 294.
Union President Jeff Marano said offering overtime “is nothing new,” and while it will help immediately, the department is still understaffed.
“The bottom line is we need more officers,” said Marano.
Resident Aleida Spalding agrees.
“It’s so sad to see what’s been going on here,” said Spalding. “I don’t see it getting better, I see it getting worse.”
But city leaders say perception is different than reality.
For the period Jan. 1-Aug. 19, 2012, violent crimes — which includes homicides, robberies and sexual offenses — were at 400.
That’s down from 437 for the same time period in 2011.
And non-violent crimes, such as burglaries, were also down.
But the number of car thefts had increased.
“Public safety has always been one of the city’s top priorities,” said Commissioner Heidi O’Sheehan, who district includes Hollywood Hills. O’Sheehan said while it seems like there has been an uptick lately in robberies in certain areas, the Police Department is on top of it.
“They are doing whatever they can to keep us safe,” she said.
Hollywood holds neighborhood meetings to offer crime watch tips and update residents on crime trends. The next meeting will be 6 p.m. Monday at the Fred Lippman Multi-Purpose Center, 2030 Polk St.