AZ Republic-Police, fire not immune this round (10.20.08)

Police, fire not immune this round

Mesa’s fire and police departments should prepare to do more with less amid proposed budget cuts.

The fire department will move several management positions to field duty and will send two responders to emergency medical calls. Currently, four EMS responders are called out on medical emergencies. Of the 55,000 calls dispatched annually, 70 percent are medical-related and of those, 60 percent are non-life threatening.

Splitting up medic units will free firefighters to focus on more serious calls, Fire Chief Harry Beck said.

Bryan Jeffries, president of the United Mesa Firefighters Association, said moving toward two-man medical units could limit available resources for patients whose condition worsens. Patients could also be forced to wait longer for a full four-man crew, which could ultimately cost lives.

“What they are proposing is the system we had in and Mesa 25 years ago,” he said. “We’re not going to save as many people as we do today.”

The police department plans to decentralize the SWAT team and motorcycle officers to help patrol the city’s streets.

The cutbacks proposed by Police Chief George Gascón, who deferred comment to City Manager Chris Brady, include a freeze on non-essential overtime and the purchase of new vehicles. Officers will also no longer be assigned their own radios or laptop computers.

Fabian Cota, Mesa Police Association president, said redistributing the department’s motorcycle unit – key in battling DUIs – is a mistake.

“With the holidays coming, we should be focusing 100 percent on DUI and traffic enforcement,” Cota said.

He added that city officials should look to bonding, tax and other funding sources, including dipping into the city’s rainy day fund.

“If you have a rainy day fund, this is what it’s for. Basically I’m saying, ‘It’s raining,’ ” Cota said.