Homicide Numbers Rise as SBPD Prepares to Cut (Lots of) Staff

By Jesse B. Gill

Posted August 31, 2012 in Web Only
The city of San Bernardino just can’t seem to catch a break these days.

It’s no secret that the city’s having pretty profound financial problems. It is one of a handful of California cities seeking Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection as it can no longer come up with creative ways to pay its bills.

City officials filed for bankruptcy protection Aug. 1 and Thursday, they held a special council meeting to begin talking about a plan wherein they will make major cuts as an attempt to get the budget back in line. Under that plan, called a pre-pendency plan, the city would slash $22.4 million of a budget deficit of $45.8 million.

First on the chopping block are the city’s police and fire departments, which together make up a whopping 72 percent of the General Fund spending this fiscal year and at least 69 percent of the spending for next fiscal, according to city officials.

So if city leaders are trying to cut their staggering budget deficit in half, they’re forced to start with police department, since it accounts for so much of the city’s overall spending.

Police Chief Rob Handy said during Thursday’s special meeting that he could get rid of 64 of 104 department positions filled by civilians. These positions usually include file clerks, analysts, administrative assistants—not sworn officers, but men and women that usually make the officers’ job a whole lot easier.

Handy also said 18 sworn officers indicated they would either retire or just find a new place to work and when they left and the police chief wouldn’t replace them when and if that happened.

This isn’t exactly great news for the city. Keep in mind, San Bernardino saw 12 homicides in a single month earlier this year. And since then, no other month has been as prolific, but it’s not as if the bodies aren’t still hitting the pavement.

Just Thursday, a 30-year-old man was killed in the 700 block of South Belden Street. Officers responded to a call reporting a man down just after 7:45 p.m. They entered a home and found the man dead. Officials didn’t say how he died. They also haven’t released his identity yet, as his family hasn’t yet been informed of the bad news.

And last week, on Aug. 24, a rather frightening incident left two men dead after gunmen entered JMC Tire Shop at 201 East Baseline. The masked gunmen opened fire and killed a customer and an employee inside the store.

Four days later, homicide detectives arrested four men—20-year-old transient Jorge Cinco, Jose Lopez, 28, of Los Angeles, Juan Lomeli, 42, of San Bernardino and Johnny Lomeli, 19, of La Puente—and accused them of the killings. Prosecutors charged the men with murder.

Which is good, as a group of alleged killers are now off the street, though that doesn’t do the dead men—Elias Esparza, 37, of Highland, who worked at the tire shop, and customer, Roberto Betancourt, 48, of Los Angeles—a whole lot of good now.

Esparza and Betancourt were San Bernardino’s 32nd and 33rd homicides this year. The victim found Thursday on Belden Street is the 34th. The Sun reported that the city’s 2012 homicide numbers have already eclipsed last year’s numbers, and with the word that the city may lose as many as 18 officers and a bunch of civilian employees doesn’t bode well for residents who, it’s safe to say, would like to see the homicide numbers stop rising or at least slow down.

The officers that may soon leave the Police Department aren’t homicide detectives, according to Handy, but that doesn’t necessarily make the situation better (not that anyone, Handy included, is trying to put a positive spin on this—they’re not). Homicide detectives are the guys the department calls after someone’s been killed to figure out who did the killing and why. It’s the uniformed officers who ride around in patrol cars who are more in charge of trying to make sure people don’t get killed in the first place.

At Thursday’s meeting, Handy told the council the proposed cuts would force the department to focus on high-priority calls (like homicides or other violent crimes) and find ways to be more proactive to stop other kinds of violations. And San Bernardino PD is certainly not the first Inland Empire police force to have to find ways to do a lot more with a lot less and it’s certainly not the department’s fault that such devastating cuts should come in a year that’s been as violent as 2012 has been.

But, as always, it’s the residents who suffer, regardless of whose fault this all is. County authorities are still investigating the city’s bankruptcy situation to see if officials did anything criminal in leaving the city is such a bad way.

The city’s budget plan hasn’t been accepted yet—the City Council is set to take another look at it Tuesday. Until then, San Bernardino residents would be wise to batten down the hatches.

Check “The Watch Dog” by Jesse B. Gill every Friday for the latest (and greatest) behind-the-scenes crime coverage in the Inland Empire.


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