Fullerton, CA may be wasting money on its police force

January 15, 2014

Two Fullerton, California police officers were acquitted Monday in the brutal beating death of a homeless and mentally ill man, Kelly Thomas. Here is the story from Reuters:

The confrontation between six Fullerton police officers and Thomas was captured by a surveillance camera at the bus station and led to demonstrations in the community, as well as the ouster of three city council members in a recall election.

On the videotape, [police officer] Ramos is seen strapping gloves on his hands, balling them into fists in Thomas’s face and telling Thomas, whom he knew from previous encounters: ‘You see these fists? They are getting ready to f— you up.’

Near the end of the tape, Thomas can be heard screaming for help as police officers swarm over him, delivering multiple blows and shocks with a stun gun. At one point he can be heard calling for his father to help him, yelling: ‘Daddy, they’re killing me.’

Thomas’ parents asked that he be removed from life support, and he died five days after the beating. If you are brave enough, click here to see a picture of Thomas taken after the beating or see the video of the beating.

I have always believed, based on the video that was released in 2011, that the officers involved would be sent to prison. Instead, they were acquitted. Fullerton residents have protested the case, spoken out at city council meetings and recalled three members of the city council. Fullerton’s chief of police went on an unexplained medical leave before retiring seven months later.

One of the acquitted police officers, Jay Cicinelli, has announced he is seeking to regain his position on the Fullerton police force. It’s not hard to imagine how this will stir up the community.

Using open salary records for California municipal employees maintained by the California state controller, I estimated what the salary and benefits were for the six officers present at the beating. Using 2012 data, annual costs for Fullerton taxpayers were $928,000 a year for the six officers. It breaks down like this:

3 Officers


1 Sergeant


2 Corporals



Fullerton taxpayers paid six policemen, who together earn almost one million dollars a year, to subdue a mentally ill homeless man. Can taxpayers afford a police department with such high costs?

Fullerton is not a California charter city that normally requires police and fire employees to be paid at the same level as comparably-sized communities. This is the stranglehold that bankrupt Stockton and San Bernardino face. Fullerton is only constrained by labor contracts to adjust police pay.

Median household income in Fullerton is $65,000 per year, much less than the $95,000, on average, that the lowest-ranked police officers earn without including benefits.

Fullerton has an alternative option to pay the Orange County Sheriff’s department to take over policing. The Orange County Register did a cost analysis of this option:

Some cities have their own police departments, with their own top brass. Others farm out policing to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The difference in what it costs Joe Public can be a bit startling.

  • San Juan Capistrano is bigger than Laguna Beach — by about 50 percent — but it pays about half what Laguna pays for policing ($7.2 million, to Laguna’s $14 million).

Thomas’ brutal death at the hands of Fullerton police puts a spotlight on the department. Taxpayers might want to look at a little deeper at their municipal services. They might find they have some good alternatives.

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robbing and stealing?

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