Pine Mountain (Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009, 11 p.m.)—The rain was pounding on Thursday night, Dec.10 but at times it was stormier inside the Pine Mountain clubhouse than outside. A meeting of about 50-60 residents of Pine Mountain asked for answers and shared their ideas about the community’s security patrol officers. Five of the officers were there themselves hearing the crowd express appreciation for their services. They also heard concerns and questions about the activities of a task force that is reviewing the operational guidelines for the patrol

The meeting had been convened by the task force, which explained they had been asked to advise the board regarding updates to the security patrol’s services. A loudly expressed sentiment among those who attended through the evening was "if it’s not broken, don’t fix it." Residents also asked what the sudden "trigger" was for this review, and why defensive batons and pepper spray had been removed from the security officers. In addition, the security force said they were not answering most the calls they had responded to in the past because the task force and management has left them in limbo regarding authorization to fulfill their mission.

Patrol Chief Rick Wastaferro and his officers said they want their tools back. He said each of the officers had been trained and certified with licensing through the state of California. John Dilibert, who conducted the meeting, said he believed that a policy of continual training was advisable for all "use of force" tools. Security guards replied that they had been seeking additional training for years and had been denied.

Members of the committee included Scott Robinson (L.A. County Fire Department and PMCPOA Board Member), John Dilibert (Burbank City Police Department and Board member), Maurice Tondreau (retired California Highway Patrol officer and Pine Mountain resident). Also sitting at the front table was Jerry Fossler, PMCPOA general manager and Lee Benavidez, current chairman of the PMCPOA board. All other board members were in the audience.

Tondreau said he wanted to be clear that although he had been asked to serve on the task force, he had nothing to do with removing the patrol’s defensive weapons. Dilibert too indicated that he felt the tools should be returned to the security force, but with updated training. All agreed that there had been no incidents in 15 years regarding improper use of tools or procedures in regard to the security force—which returned the questions to how exactly all these changes had come to pass so suddenly and with no public discussion.

The members refused to be diverted to other issues until the panel answered. At last, General Manager Jerry Fossler revealed that he had talked with the PMCPOA insurance carriers and legal counsel about the force’s tools. In a seemingly contradictory explanation, he said that the insurance company had replied that they had no concerns at all about patrol carrying nightsticks and pepper spray. He said that the attorney, Len Siegel, told him that there could be a liability "if something happened." On that basis he said he had ordered that the tools be removed.

A notable number of former law enforcement officers were among the members who attended the meeting. Four of them spoke up about troubling aspects of the recent decisions.

Gary Biggerstaff, who mentioned being responsible for aspects of law enforcement during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, said he considered himself an expert on law enforcement and security policy. He read a statement which he said was "pulling the plug on the grenade" in representing the community’s concerns. He praised the seurity force as "always courteous, quick responders and proactive problem solvers." He said their activities are often preventive, which "cuts down on liabilities to the association."  He said that officers living locally are a great asset. They are part of the community and nearby for call in a fire or disaster emergency. He said they are "fully trained in defensive tools such as mace and batons," and that removing these tools from the officers was creating a larger liability risk for the community. He drew a scenario of an officer responding to a call in which an officer incurred an injury because security personnel had no baton with which to protect themselves.

"Are we happy with what we have?" Biggerstaff asked. The question drew a response of "Yes!" and applause from the crowd as the committee sitting at the table in front looked on with discomfort. He said that trying to "outsource" security was a bad idea. "We should return their defensive tools immediately," he said.

"In 15 years, there has never been a case brought against the association because of the security patrol. Why? It is because of good personnel selection, good supervision and good procedures," he said. In fact, he added, over a million dollars in suits against the association had been filed because of bad decisions by directors and managers in the past, "so if you really want to cut the costs of liability….[and here he left a pregnant pause]…well, you do the math…." There was general laughter in the hall as directors, former directors and members understood Biggerstaff was suggesting that perhaps we should ‘get rid of the directors.’

After the meeting, The Mountain Enterprise asked board chair Lee Benavidez whether the officers would have their equipment back within a week, by December 18. He said, "Yes they will, and they will have training too."

Over the next 24 hours, additional detailed notes will be transcribed and photos of the meeting will be posted here, so please check back.


This is part of the December 04, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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