Mayor Pro Tem Nick Dunlap spoke at the November 16 City Council meeting about a mass text that was sent out by the Fullerton Police Officers Association (FPOA), the union that represents the FPD, accusing the mayor and himself of trying to “defund the police.” Both Dunlap and Mayor Bruce Whitaker criticized the police union for using the rhetoric of “defund the police” to describe their views and said that they support the police.
The mass text read: “*Public Safety Alert* While violent crime continues to overwhelm Fullerton, Mayor Whitaker & Council-Member Dunlap continue their attempt to DEFUND your Fullerton PD. Do you support millions of additional cuts to our public safety budget? YES or NO.”
Fullerton Police Officers’ Association President Kevin Pedrosa took responsibility for and defended the text.
“There is no doubt, both Mayor Whitaker and Dunlap have pushed to cut the Fullerton Police Department, hence the word ‘defund,’” Pedrosa said. “Mr. Dunlap wants to confuse the residents by comingling ‘defunding the police’ with ‘abolishment of the police.’ We never accused Mr. Dunlap of striving to abolish the Fullerton Police Department; he wants to cut it.”
Pedrosa said that if Whitaker and Dunlap are successful in cutting the FPD by 4-5%, “we will lose police officers, freeze positions (not give the Chief the ability to hire anymore police officers) and violent crime will continue to rise in our community.”
He added, “Under their leadership, the Fullerton PD cut motor officers patrolling the streets, reduced our Detective Bureau by 71% (leaving them severely understaffed and overworked), cut the Homeless Liaison Team by 50%, and eliminated the Direct Enforcement Team.”
Over the past several meetings, City Council has been divided over budget cuts. Dunlap and Whitaker have repeatedly proposed cuts across all departments, which could include the Police Department.
Dunlap called the text “a complete and total fabrication of any discussion that’s ever taken place on this dais.”
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised that the union lied and misrepresented the truth in order to put money in their pocket, although it certainly offended me, but it surprised me that they used the word ‘defund,’ given what that means in today’s vernacular.” Dunlap added that, since joining Council, he has voted to approve every purchase request and grant that has been submitted by the police department.
Mayor Whitaker also denied the accusations. “I find it almost amusing that I’m being accused of wanting to defund the police, since the beginning of my term as mayor I was the only speaker that laid out that it’s craziness to talk about defunding the police…certainly you [Dunlap] and I are members of a party that does not embrace this notion whatsoever. So, I think it is lamentable that the FPOA engages in such fictional activity. And it’s led to me have to meet and discuss this with many new people…and reassure them that that is not my agenda whatsoever.”
At the first budget Study Session on August 17, Acting City Manager Steve Danley talked about cuts to Fullerton PD in the context of larger “across the board” cuts. At the October 5 meeting, Dunlap proposed a 4% cut across the board, including the Fullerton Police Department. Mayor Whitaker agreed with the motion and asked for 4% cut, although he has also supported 2 and 3 percent cuts.
Dunlap said that “any and all cuts suggested and presented to Council have been entirely prepared and presented by and through department heads and the City’s financial services staff.”
While it is true that suggestions for specific cuts have come from staff, the idea of making across-the-board 2-5% cuts came from the Council majority of Bruce Whitaker, Nick Dunlap, and Fred Jung as a way to offset an ongoing structural deficit.
Councilmembers Jesus Silva and Ahmad Zahra have opposed cuts given the fact that the City has recently received $32.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, which could go toward keeping City employees. Dunlap has advocated for using the majority of these funds for infrastructure.
Dunlap said that some staff positions within FPD are currently being held vacant by the department despite the fact they are budgeted. The current budget shows that the FPD is budgeted for 140 police officers. President Pedrosa said that the FPD was doing the right thing fiscally by conserving spending during COVID-19 and were not willing to hire officers when there may be cuts to their department.
“We don’t want to hire officers and then have to fire them because the City decided to make these cuts to our department,” Pedrosa said in a phone conversation with The Observer.
Pedrosa said that in 2010, the Fullerton Police Department was fully staffed at 164 sworn officers. “Today, as I write this, the department currently has 117 sworn officers…Due to these shortages, the detective bureau was cut from 21 detectives to 9 to help fill the need in patrol.”
“As a result, victims of sexual assaults, domestic violence, and other serious crimes have no choice but to wait for a detective to get to their case, which may take months. In August of 2021, our department had to eliminate our motor officers, leaving our City without traffic enforcement,” Pedrosa said. “The association is not asking for pay raises, we are pleading with the City Council to stop the cuts.”
The next Fullerton City Council meeting is December 7 at 6:30pm at City Hall.
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