First published in the April 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank Police Department is seeking a third-party company that will help staff its parking-enforcement unit, which officials said could soon have just one active employee.
Capt. Adam Cornils of the BPD’s patrol division told the City Council on Tuesday that the unit normally has 10 non-sworn parking control officers and a supervisor.
The team currently has six officers and no supervisor, he said, and because of long-term injuries and imminent retirements will likely soon have just one person on duty.
The BPD will fill vacant positions with outside personnel during a one-year pilot initiative, Cornils said, and will determine whether to continue it afterward.
The department will reallocate funds designated for the parking unit to the outside company, with police expecting to save money by retaining a smaller department staff.
“This is a pilot program,” Cornils said. “We’re walking into this as an assessment with our eyes open and our mind open. We’re not committing to this long-term, we’re going to use the money that is available now to give this a test drive and see if this is better for us.”
The parking unit’s annual budget for personnel salaries and benefits is about $823,000, according to a city staff report.
The BPD was also planning to replace the unit’s 12 vehicles — which are more than a decade old — at a cost of about $480,000, but delayed that move until the pilot program concludes. The department is seeking a contractor that will provide vehicles, uniforms and equipment, Cornils said.
The police captain added that the program will not require the firing of any BPD officers, who will continue to address calls for service, vehicle impounds and other issues.
Cornils also emphasized that the department won’t pay a company by the number of citations its employees write, though that figure will likely increase with a fully staffed team.
It’s unclear how soon the pilot program will begin, as the BPD still must determine which company to hire. Some cities, such as Pasadena, Glendale and West Hollywood, contract third-party corporations for at least some of their parking enforcement services.
The BPD will continue to recruit parking officers in case it decides not to continue the program after the pilot period, Cornils said. The hiring process can take up to a year, he added, and trainees sometimes move to other police departments for higher pay.
The City Council expressed broad support for the program, and will receive a report on it a year after it begins.
“It’s exciting,” Mayor Jess Talamantes said Tuesday. “It’s something different that we are not used to, but like you stated, it’s something new.”
COUNCIL APPROVES ‘MILITARY’ EQUIPMENT
The City Council also voted 4-1 on Tuesday to introduce an ordinance allowing the BPD to continue to use specified “military equipment,” a process mandated by a state law passed last year.
The list of BPD equipment includes unarmed drones, a SWAT vehicle, breaching shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, tear gas, “less-lethal” weapons and flash-bang grenades.
The City Council will vote on whether to adopt the ordinance, and the associated list, at a future meeting.
The BPD must seek City Council approval annually for continued use of the gear, as well as whatever new military equipment the department plans to purchase. Police purchased some of their most expensive pieces of equipment with federal grant funding.
“When you say ‘military equipment,’ … it can have the appearance of being menacing sounding,” Chief Michael Albanese told the council, “but understand that the extraordinary equipment that we have and we use is, No. 1, infrequent, and typically it is used when lives are in peril.”
While most council members said they felt the BPD’s equipment was necessary — Albanese emphasized that he didn’t believe there was anything on the list police didn’t need — Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony unsuccessfully argued otherwise.
Anthony, whose 2020 campaign platform included a pledge to “defund the militarization of our local police force,” said he didn’t think the BPD needs tear gas, smoke grenades or pepper spray.
“I think just removing at least those … would give our community a peace of mind,” he added, “knowing that there’s not going to be chemical weapons used, even if it’s as a diversionary method.”
Prior to the meeting, Anthony also asked Burbank residents on Twitter to call in during the public comment portion of the meeting to express their thoughts about the equipment list.
Adam Conover, a comedian with nearly 200,000 Twitter followers, retweeted the message, and a handful of local residents called on the council Tuesday to remove the equipment.
The council majority showed no interest in considering doing so, however, with Councilman Bob Frutos — a former Los Angeles Police Department officer — leading the motion to introduce the ordinance.
“Either you trust the chief or you don’t trust the chief at all,” he said. “I don’t want to defund the police department. I don’t want to have them not prepared.”