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Fullerton officials could disband embattled Police Department

A year after Fullerton police fatally beat a mentally ill homeless man, sparking controversy and political upheaval in one of Orange County's oldest cities, officials are expected to launch a study that could lead to the dissolution of the city's 104-year-old Police Department.

On Tuesday, the City Council will decide whether to order a preliminary analysis that will look into handing over the city's law enforcement responsibilities to the Orange County sheriff. The analysis is expected to take four months and is considered a first step to asking the Sheriff's Department to make a bid to replace the existing Police Department.

Letting the sheriff take over could potentially slash management costs, said Fullerton Councilman Bruce Whitaker. Whitaker said that although the department needs to be examined, the driving force behind potentially contracting out police services is the $37 million required to operate the 144-officer department.

"The intent here is to find out how much money could be saved and what level of service would be offered," Whitaker said. "We're spending a large amount per capita, and I suspect they can outline some savings."

Councilman Travis Kiger said the issue was about money in tough budget times for cities. But, he said, the department did not help itself with its handling of the Kelly Thomas case.

The homeless man, Kelly Thomas, was beaten in July 2011 with fists and the butt of a stun gun in an incident that was captured on videotape. Two officers have been charged in his death, the police chief has left, three officers quit the force in the face of termination proceedings and three of the five City Council members were recalled in a June election.

"The department has been severely criticized ... and the police chief left in the middle of the disaster and people have been jumping ship," Kiger said.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens in a recent interview said that although she was not seeking to police additional cities, she was more than willing to provide Fullerton officials with an option.

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— Richard Winton

 
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