Carrying posters and banners that read “Hemet is not safe” and “Keep our police,” over 300 citizens gathered outside City Hall today in Hemet to be heard on the future of the Hemet fire and police departments, as residents and city officials continue to mull the costs of having their own fire an police services.
The demonstration got underway shortly before noon outside Hemet’s City Hall and concluded at about 1 p.m.
The debate over whether to contract with the county’s Cal Fire or to outsource its current services as a way of lowering costs took center stage in the November city council elections, with some candidates promising to explore a variety of cost-saving options.
Surrounding cities such as Murrieta have faced similar fiscal frustrations over public services.
Most of those assembled today said they hoped that the city council would make every effort to preserve the Hemet Fire Department — one of the few remaining active city-based units in the region — along with its police department services, as well.
Many motorists honked their car horns in support for their local police and fire departments.
During the protest, demonstrators took a moment of silence to honor San Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah MacKay and Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain who were killed by Christopher Dorner earlier this month.
Howard Rosenthal, who has a business in Hemet, is fed up with the increase in crime.
“People of Hemet are fed up with being a dumping ground for criminals and scum,” Rosenthal said. “We don’t feel safe with this level of law enforcement … we want something done about it.”
“We think (the city council) is going to outsource fire and police. It’s nonsense. We want more cops; we want more cops now,” Rosenthal said.
Carol Cripps, 73, of Hemet, had a close call with death and is thankful to Hemet Fire for saving her life.
“I had a heath problem and would have died,” Cripps said. “The young man started asking the right questions and made me go to the hospital. My heart almost stopped twice … they saved my life and that’s because they were on time and they are local.”
Hemet resident Keith Wachter, 60, came out to show his support with his wife. While Wachter is “on the fence” about having local police and fire taken over by the county, he’s certain that money will be the deciding factor.
“I hate to see us give up control of a city police department and our 100 year old fire department,” Wachter said. “But money is what it comes down to.
“The money is what’s going to determine if they go with Cal Fire or not.”
While Wachter does not want to see local police and fire services get taken over by the county, he believes that the city is safer with having Cal Fire/ Riverside County Fire Department and the Sheriff’s Department as the provider.
“Our little community can get better, but it has to have the money to do it and there’s no money,” Wachter added. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Daniel Lane is a local photojournalist and regular contributor to SWRNN.