SAN BERNARDINO -- City Attorney James F. Penman used his comment period at Monday's City Council meeting to defend an earlier comment that residents worried about crime should "lock your doors and load your guns," saying similar advice has proven correct before.
Penman clarified that he wasn't speaking to people who aren't comfortable with firearms or have children -- from teens to toddlers -- in the home, and he said he opposed vigilantism.
But he doubled down on the substance of the advice, first given at a community meeting Nov. 28: Police cutbacks and rising crime mean residents must take responsibility for their own safety.
"The problem is serious," Penman said. "The Police Department will do everything it can to protect you. ... But they can't do everything they would like."
The city's pendency plan -- its budget for 2012-13 and 2013-14 -- doesn't include money to refill vacant officer positions if at least 260 sworn officers stay on the force. That's down 80 from the department's peak employment and compares to 268 this month.
Meanwhile, 46 people have been killed in San Bernardino this year, compared to 29 at the end of November 2011. The highest number of homicides in recent years was 58 in 2005, a peak Penman said he predicted weeks earlier after police told him they were understaffed.
But people are safe, said Police Chief Robert Handy -- there are as many patrol officers on the streets today as there have been in recent years, and police respond to emergency calls within 5 minutes.
"I do not agree that we have a Police Department that cannot respond adequately," Handy said. "I take exception to the lack of confidence that's portrayed of our Police Department and being drug into a political issue."
No one responded to Penman's comments during Monday's meeting, but Councilman Fred Shorett -- who heard the original statement -- said afterward they were inappropriate.
"I think it's the wrong message to be sending to our citizenry," said Shorett, who said a few residents have complained to him about the remarks. "I'm an NRA member and a hunter, but I don't think it's our place to be publicly suggesting people lock and load."
Councilwoman Wendy McCammack, who hosted the crime-focused forum where Penman made his original statement, said at Monday's meeting that a resident told her he had called police as he watched a burglary but waited more than 3 hours before police showed up.
Handy said he texted McCammack immediately afterward to get the details of what she'd heard, because protocol is to send officers immediately to a crime in progress and that is normally done.
Reach Ryan via email, or call him at 909-386-3916. ___