All it took was the simple mention of an idea to outsource the city’s policing services to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.
And before the City Council had a chance to even discuss the issue, a strong public response sided with the local police force, making it abundantly clear the idea didn’t belong anywhere near the table.
City Manager Dave Buckingham announced in a July 18 memo that the city would follow up on a recommendation pitched by a May 2015 organizational study from the government-consulting firm Management Partners. The report offered a handful of ideas to make the Morro Bay Police Department (MBPD) more efficient and fiscally trim, including suggesting the city could eliminate some administrative costs by contracting public safety duties to the sheriff. No cities in SLO County do so, but the option has been employed around California, including in four Santa Barbara County cities.
The city originally planned to review the report’s recommendations in 2017, but after two top officers—former Chief Amy Christey and former Cmdr. Bryan Millard—departed for new posts as chiefs elsewhere, the conversation was bumped up so the city wasn’t considering new hires right before the outsourcing decision.
That announcement made in a July 12 memo was followed by a strong, widespread public response broadcasting a resounding message that the citizens of Morro Bay wanted their police force to stay local and that the city should not even consider the outsourcing idea.
The city listened—a week before the City Council’s Aug. 9 meeting, Buckingham released a staff report recommending that the city not consider the idea. On Aug. 9, the council decisively voted 5-0 to abandoned the discussion.
During public comment, MBPD Officer Greg Gruich, president of the Morro Bay Officers Association, said the Sheriff’s Department “is a top notch organization; they’re professional, and they’re very good at what they do,” but city police provide several more specific nitty gritty services, like following up on traffic collisions and driving under the influence cases within city limits.
“We work for you, we protect you, we believe in you, and we save you. I ask of you now to work for us, protect us, believe in us, and save us,” he said.
Gruich also said MBPD is both a familiar face in the city and a well-trained force with a variety of skill sets.
“We are your big loveable floppy-eared sheep dogs, and we’re friendly and we’re courteous,” he said. “I want you to know that if we ever do have that type of threat with an active shooter in a city, that … with the flip of a switch we can turn into John Wayne.”
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay