DOWNEY - Surrounded by a small group of community members, Mayor Luis Marquez, Police Chief Rick Esteves and Fire Chief Lonnie Croom reassured residents last Thursday night that public safety will remain the city's number one priority despite stark economic conditions."The public safety of our residents is a commitment we've made on the Council…this is a priority of ours," Marquez said. "You get what you pay for. That's why 70 percent of our budget goes towards our police and fire departments." Following a brief introduction, Marquez, aided by a visual presentation, gave a succinct overview of both departments, sharing several public safety updates before inviting Esteves and Croom to speak. Moderated by Marquez, the town hall meeting, held at the Columbia Memorial Space Center, was the first in a series of public forums the mayor will host this year. Esteves began his segment by thanking residents for their support, promising that the police department will work hard to respect the community it serves. "We sit down at the beginning of the shift and talk about ethics, core principles, respect and dignity," said Esteves who was promoted to police chief in 2009. "We train folks how to treat people with respect…it's important that we treat people like human beings." From speeding traffic and school violence to the department's $15,000 drug-sniffing dog, Duke, Esteves covered a range of topics, but highlighted the need for the Downey police to keep up with high-tech predators. "Every single day technology exponentially gets more sophisticated and criminals keep up with that," he said. "Identity theft is a huge, huge problem. Before we didn't have the knowledge to deal with it, but in this era of policing, you have to stay educated." Esteves believes new technology like the automatic license plate reading system, which is now functional on five police vehicles, will keep the police one step ahead. "The camera reads every license plate that passes by," said Esteves. "In the first 21 days with five units, we recovered three stolen cars. It's an incredible tool that we hope to expand." Similarly, Croom also highlighted the new technologies the fire department now utilizes to keep Downey residents safe. "In the 50s and 60s, we fought fire and we're still using hoses, water and ladders," he said with a laugh. "By and large that's what we're known for, but fire services have changed a lot over the last 30 to 40 years. We're now an all-risk department." Croom said the fire department, which now has nearly 70 firefighters and 16 paramedics, has steadily grown through the decades and now serves as a center for emergency preparedness. "At this point we have a real safe city," said Croom, who grew up in Downey himself. "There's not a lot of smoke in the sky, but when the earthquake hits and it will, we have the tools and skills to help you. Reduce the loss of life and property loss - that's out goal." Croom said the police and fire departments will continue working closely together, taking many of the same training classes and responding to several calls as a team. Esteves also praised the unity between the two departments while encouraging local residents to do their part to make the city an even safer place. "We are blessed to be able to serve you, and we will continue to protect the city of Downey, but you are our eyes and ears," he said. "If you see something suspicious or have a solution, give us a call and we will look into the situation." In addition to the state of the city address on March 30, Marquez will host two more "Mayor Presents" public forums including a town hall meeting with Downey's local, state and federal officials this summer and a forum on education with the Downey Unified School District in October.
********** Published: March 17, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 48