The Lompoc City Council debated two public safety proposals on Sept. 1. The first was to purchase and support body cameras for the Police Department; the second was to buy a new fire engine.

All five council members have previously expressed their support for public safety; now was the time to tangibly demonstrate that support.

Supporting the cost and staffing for body cameras should be a no-brainer.  The use of these important evidentiary tools is becoming widespread, and police departments using them have experienced fewer claims of brutality as a result.

When both the public and the officers know that every instant of police contact will be recorded for posterity, it tends to reduce the chance for confrontations.

The council should consider the annual cost as an insurance policy to protect the city. We have seen live PD cam videos that clearly indicate a police contact can escalate from a simple conversation to a violent incident in nanoseconds.

I am sure the city attorney would support the idea that a video recording of an incident as it unfolds is far superior evidence in court than a written report by police officers and frequently conflicting witness accounts of what had transpired.

Councilman Jim Mosby said the city “really can’t afford to not get these things.”

Mayor Jenelle Osborne said, “We are making a grave mistake if we don’t find where this money is coming from to fund this sooner rather than later.”

Speaking from a taxpayer’s perspective, the City Council simply couldn’t afford to deny this request. The council seemed to agree but couldn’t bring themselves to actually commit to buying the equipment now.

Both the city manager and the finance guru indicated that “as we move into the new budget cycle, we may be able to afford this.”

After over an hour of discussion, the council continued this item until December and asked staff to return with updated costs. Considering “government time” that means the earliest the procurement process can begin is July 1, 2021.

The Fire Department currently operates two “first run” pumpers, a ladder truck (with pump), two brush units, a rescue truck, and one reserve engine.

The newest pumper has reached the mid-point of its service life and the ladder truck and one brush truck have exceeded their service life. And, when the ladder truck needs a part, it has to be custom manufactured since the equipment builder is out of business.

Even though the national standard indicates a “maximum in-service usage of 25 years” is acceptable, it shouldn’t be used as the point at which you buy replacement equipment. It would be a fool’s folly to use fire equipment in first-line service until the day it stops working.

One of the engines, purchased in 2002 was “out-of-service” for more than a year (2018-19) and recently had the transmission fail at 3 a.m. while arriving at a call for service. And the 29-year-old brush truck has a cracked tank that drains dry, so the crew must take the time to fill it before responding to a fire.

I served in fire departments for 20 years, and the equipment we used was old, but I never had to fill a truck before we could respond. This revelation was a first for me and more akin to what you would see in a Keystone Cops-type of comedy.

As the staff report states: “A sound financial plan allows stakeholders (both internal and external) to better predict the needs of the department and establishes how the leadership is working to meet those needs in the most prudent manner that is clear and can be easily understood.”

The city manager indicated that vehicle replacement for all departments would be planned differently starting with the next budget. This is encouraging since a long-term replacement schedule is needed to resolve the Fire Department’s equipment replacement needs.

Councilman Victor Vega, who claims to support public safety and wants to be mayor, was the only council member who sat silently watching the others discuss police body cameras; and spoke for less than two minutes concerning the purchase of a new fire engine. Instead, he relied on the others to ask pertinent questions.

As a taxpayer I want reliable fire equipment in service 24 hours a day, all year long. The council unanimously agreed and passed a motion to approve the purchase of this important piece of equipment.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.