On February 2, 2015, CSLEA met with new Department of State Hospitals Director Pamela Ahlin and new Chief Deputy Director Stephanie Clendenin. CSLEA congratulated them on their new appointments and briefed them on ongoing issues that are impacting the Hospital Police Officers and Fire Fighters at Department of State Hospitals (DSH).
Attending from CSLEA were Senior Legal Counsel Ryan Navarre, Supervising Legal Counsel Dave De La Riva, Legislative Consultant Craig Brown, and Patton State Hospital HPO and HPAC Secretary Michael Hakker.
The primary topic discussed was the Recruitment and Retention Proposal that the Department submitted to California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) in July 2014. CSLEA acknowledged that DSH has many issues that need attention, however, CSLEA argued that the safety and security of the hospitals should be of paramount importance. CSLEA pressed DSH to actively pursue the Recruitment and Retention for Hospital Police Officers (HPOs) and to make the proposal a priority.
In an effort to encourage DSH to make recruitment and retention a priority, CSLEA provided DSH with updated salary comparisons which reflect that DSH cannot compete with neighboring law enforcement agencies which can offer salaries ranging from 30% to more than 50% greater than the salaries offered to those in the HPO classifications. To support the claim that the HPO salary is not competitive, CSLEA provided DSH with vacancy statistics showing that the Department has well over 100 vacant positions statewide and has not even gotten close to filling those vacancies over the years. CSLEA warned that the vacancy rate will only increase as more officers are leaving for higher paying jobs every month. As a result of the high number of vacancies, DSH is forced to pay a significant amount of overtime, which can average around 70 – 80 hours of overtime per officer each month. Not only does this impact the officers’ home life and job satisfaction, but it can also create a police force that is exhausted and overworked.
CSLEA also requested that DSH take a closer look at Napa and Metropolitan State Hospital Officer staffing. Over the past decade, Hospital Police Officer positions have not increased as quickly as HPO assignments. For instance, Napa State Hospital is budgeted for 101 HPO positions, of which only 90 positions are filled. However, Napa State Hospital Police department has approximately 137 HPO assignments that need to be filled. This results in HPO assignments being underfunded by approximately 36 positions.
As a result of the vacancies and position underfunding, the Hospitals are forced to hire overtime or keep certain police officer assignments vacant. Unfortunately, as a result of the overtime burden, CSLEA has noticed that the Hospitals are choosing to just leave police officer posts unstaffed. This is extremely concerning as it risks the health and safety of the patients, staff, visitors, officers, and neighboring communities.
The message to the new Director was simple, if you address the salary issue impacting recruitment and retention, HPOs will stay and new HPOs will come. It is imperative that HPO positions be properly allocated and filled so the Police Departments can properly protect the patients, visitors, staff, and communities. The proper approach to take is to make the Recruitment and Retention Proposal, which the Hospitals are begging for, to be a DSH priority when discussing the DSH Budget with CalHR and Department of Finance.
CSLEA emphasized that the improper way to address HPO vacancies and improper allocation of position is via subcontracting with private security guards. As a result of vacancies, improper allocation, and high overtime, Napa State Hospital decided to explore the possibility of hiring private security guards to perform off grounds transportation and custody of forensic patients in the community. In its November 19, 2014 letter to DSH, CSLEA objected to the use of private security guards to perform work that has historically been performed by HPOs adequately and competently. CSLEA demanded that DSH cease and desist exploration of private security guards and made a Public Record Act Request. The provided information confirmed that Napa State Hospitals was in communication with Blacktalon Security Solutions regarding off-grounds transportation and custody (in community hospitals) of forensic patients.
Coincidentally, on January 23, 2015, Blacktalon Security allowed a low risk Napa County inmate to slip through its finger tips while performing custody at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa. CSLEA provided this information to the Director and explained how insulting it was for the HPOs to have their employer consider hiring security guards, who would likely be unable to pass the background and training to become a HPO or perform their duties. CSLEA reminded the Director about how dangerous the DSH patients are and what they are capable of; and how important it is to have HPOs who are specially trained to deal with these mental patients, most of whom are criminally insane, and the challenges they present. CSLEA made it clear to the Director, contracting with private security, such as Blacktalon, would place the patients, staff, community hospitals, and surrounding communities in imminent danger. Not to mention, CSLEA would seek judicial relief should the Department choose to contract with private security.
CSLEA also took this opportunity to discuss a few other law enforcement and fire related topics, such as:
- Office of Protective Services Organization and Command Structure: The Department stated that an amended Administrative Letter detailing the command structure should be released soon.
- DSH Strategic Plan: Director Ahlin actually signed the Strategic Plan, so she is very aware of its contents. CSLEA requested that she support and assist in the implementation of the plan in her new capacity as Director.
- POST Training: CSLEA thanked DSH for continuing to move closer to POST training and requested DSH to continue towards POST Basic Training for all HPOs as this matter also directly impacts DSH’s ability to recruit and retain officers.
- Radio Communication at Napa State Hospital: For years radio communication at NSH has been substandard which may impact the health and safety of the officers and all who are on its campus. CSLEA encouraged DSH to approve the use of vehicle radio units similar to CHP in order to create more dependable radio communications.
- Firearms: In light of all the recent societal issues involving police officers and the direct threats against police offices, CSLEA reinforced its longstanding call for DSH to provide firearms to HPOs assigned outside the secure treatment areas of the hospitals. CSLEA also discussed options of less than lethal equipment, such as tasers.
- Fire fighter retention and salary disparity from other municipal and state fire departments.
- Support for the creation of a Fire Captain Classification
- Utilization of Fire Fighters as Paramedics for Advanced Life Support services and transportations: This would likely save DSH money as it could rely on its own employees for these services rather than contracting out to outside ambulance companies for Advanced Life Support services.
"Overall, the meeting went very well and the new Director was very attentive to the issues we discussed," said CSLEA Senior Legal Counsel Ryan Navarre. "CSLEA provided many materials to the Director to support our positions and arguments, and we are excited to work with Director Ahlin and Chief Deputy Director Clendenin.
The next step will be to meet with Health and Human Services Agency again. Although the Penal Code 830.38(c) report was to be provided to the Legislature on January 10, 2015, this report is still in the review process. CSLEA has been informed that the report should be submitted to the Legislature during February. Once this report is submitted, CSLEA will discuss the report with Agency and continue its push for the Recruitment and Retention Proposal.