Friday, November 04, 2005

“Open Enrollees” and "Wranglers”

The San Diego city management claims that they again have to "cut" the budget and there is just nothing that they can do about that.

Sound familiar?

Only the government can call an increase in annual expenditures a “cut.” And only the government can cost us more and give us less each year and then blame us for their management problems.

They don’t just blame us. They also punish us by cutting our services.

You never see them cutting overhead.

I give you solutions in this space in hopes that you will bend the ear of your favorite elected official one day soon.

Here are a couple hot ideas.

We have long since taken for granted that the “normal” way to hire police officers and fire fighters is to recruit for, fill, and then conduct the appropriate police or fire “academy.”

We may assume that somewhere there is an exalted facility, hoary with red-suspender tradition, the historic functioning of which essential to our well-being.

In the case of the Los Angeles Police Department, that is true.

But for most other cities and counties, the “academy” simply consists of a campus representative of the employing agency coordinating a focused series of community college courses. The college districts pay for those classes.

Providing a “platform” for vocational education, that is education that results in employability, is a major mission of the community college systems throughout the state.

Completing the requisite police or fire courses in the employment of and under the tutelage of city representative results in becoming a “rookie” police officer or firefighter.

While these students are in school, they are earning a salary, being covered by workers compensation and other insurance programs, and all the while accumulating equity in the retirement system.

This is all unnecessary. Since these are community college classes, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that they should not be “open” to enrollment by any citizen who would like to enter either of these careers.

Are there any other employment categories where the employer provides the basic education? None that I can think of. You don’t get hired by a hospital and then get sent to medical or nursing school.

You certainly don’t get to be an administrative analyst, as I was, and then sent to college to see if you can earn a degree.

No, everyone else is required to invest the time and demonstrate the basic aptitude, motivation, and qualifications before being considered for employment.

Is there a shortage of applicants warranting this special treatment? Nope, not at all.

If you ever happened to pass by the civic center when police or firefighter applications are being accepted, you would have seen the line of applicants that threaded through the entire complex.

Since there is no shortage of applicants, why don’t they go to school on their own time as we all had to?

After graduation, the city would have some idea of their competence. The agencies could require the academy graduates to intern in the police reserve program for experience and further evaluation.

Right now, the departments have to wait for a new academy before they can fill vacancies. Under this proposal, there would be a constant supply of rookies.

There is one hitch. Complete open enrollment is against the law. The city should seek the repeal of that law right away.

And while we are changing the training process, we should go all the way.

Why should fire fighters sleep on the job? It makes no sense. It can’t be good for the guys to be awakened to be rushed into the rigors of firefighting.

Scottsdale Arizona pioneered the notion of “wranglers.” During their academy (one academy) the potential wrangler is taught to be both a front-line police officer and a firefighter.

Over ninety percent of the time, the wrangler is a police patrol officer leaving fire engine maintenance and operation to the fire specialists at the station.

When a fire breaks out, the wrangler drives to the fire in his police, sorry, wrangler car, opens the trunk, dons his protective fire gear, and reports to the fire captain for duty. Usually, the wranglers beat the fire truck to the scene.

Only when the employee is promoted above the entry-level ranks must he or she choose fire or police as a career.

In the meantime, the wranglers put the life and death of their citizens ahead of their snooze time.

Nope, our city unions will never permit this. Much easier to close libraries and cut back on services…again.

About the Author: Larry Stirling is a retired judge of the San Diego Superior Court. Mr. Stirling has served on the San Diego City Council, State Assembly and State Senate. As a police operations analyst for the San Diego Police Department, Mr. Stirling was the creator of the first 9-1-1 system, the first computer aided dispatch system and the creator of the ARJIS system. As a member of the legislature, he was the chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

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