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City: Time to take on gangs
Manteca formulating short-, long-term strategies
Mantecas elected leaders have told staff they want to find ways to get more officers on the street as soon as possible. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Municipal leaders are scrambling to find ways to redirect resources to combat the growing surge in gang violence on Manteca’s streets.

Shootings escalated this past week with four incidents that ended up wounding seven people including two critically.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin met Monday with Police Chief Nick Obligacion in a bid to start cobbling together short-term and long-term strategies in a bid to turn the tide against gang violence. McLaughlin said staff had been looking at ways they could increase police presence before the escalation of violence. Those efforts have been shifted into overdrive in what Councilman Steve DeBrum called “the absolute most important priority” the city has today.

“We expect to have an action plan to council before we bring them a budget proposal for the next fiscal year (that starts July 1),” McLaughlin said Monday.

McLaughlin said the city is looking at funds that could be used as one-time expenditures in the short-run to shore up police resources while continuing to work on long-range efforts to strengthen Manteca sales and property taxes to provide long-term support for public safety expenditures.

McLaughlin emphasized that whatever is done will be tailored specifically to address current gang violence and to reduce gang influences in Manteca over the long-haul.

DeBrum underscored McLaughlin’s point by saying “whatever we do it has to be sustainable.”

“We can’t afford to hire officers and then have to let them go because we don’t have the funding to keep paying them,’ DeBrum said.

DeBrum said while gang crime is by far the most pressing issue, he note the city has to make sure it can grow its tax base in order to hire additional firefighters and other essential  staff.

One short-term solution that Obligacion has implemented has been to bring back at least one retired officer - Sam Gallegos - to augment the detective ranks. Gallego was part of the saturation patrol on Sunday that was in the vicinity of the drive-by shooting at Union Road and Yosemite Avenue.

Latest shooting took place with police close to the scene

McLaughlin said that Sunday’s shooting underscores what the community must face when dealing with gangs.

“It illustrates we could have officers on every corner and the gang violence will still take place,” McLaughlin said.

She emphasized that whatever funding source is finally tapped, a plan must be in place to maximize the effectiveness of how the dollars are spent to go after gangs.

Funding solutions aren’t as easy as it may seem. Unlike gangs, the city has to play by the rules.

Bringing back retired officers can be tricky as they are now limited by changes in the rules the state made about cities being able to hire those receiving pension checks from the Public Employees Retirement Systems (PERS). The changes significantly limit the amount of time they can work and how they can be deployed.

And even though Manteca has accounts with money in them, legally they can’t touch much of it for police expenditures due to state-imposed restrictions that require certain money collected for a specific reason to be spent in that manner.

Councilman Vince Hernandez agreed that the quickest short term solutions may be to bring what retired officers back the city can plus increasing overtime. But even so, Hernandez said there needs to be a long-term strategy to increase police manpower as well as to reduce the influence of gangs

The last time Manteca launched a stepped up effort to pressure gangs five years ago they had 68 sworn officers plus more staffing in other departments that assisted with the crackdown. That effort used every code and law at the city’s disposal from property maintenance to health violations to uproot gang members.

Public safety consumes 57.84 cents of every general fund dollar spent

Today, there are 55 officers. And if it wasn’t for the Measure M half cent sales tax passed in 2006 plus a public safety endowment fund set up be developers there would only be 42 officers in Manteca today as opposed to 55. Eleven officers have their salaries covered by Measure M receipts and two from interest on the endowment account.

There would also be fewer officers today if the Manteca Police Officers Association last summer didn’t make what amounted to $6 million in contractual concession over four years. The sacrifice by police - rank and file coupled with other municipal employees - is expected to get Manteca to a point where they will only be spending what they take in as revenue by 2016.

A frequent criticism of the city is why there aren’t more officers with the Measure M tax.

In reality, there are more officers today than there would be without the tax in place.

The voter approved measure included ballot language that kept public safety funding from the general fund at the level it was at when the half cent sales tax was adopted in November of 2006. That means 57.84 cents of every general fund dollar spent goes to public safety with police receiving 40.33 cents of that dollar while fire receives 17.51 cents.

What has happened is the general fund has shrunk with The Great Recession. Four years ago, the general fund budget was at $36.5 million with public safety getting $22.8 million. Today the general fund is at $27 million with the public safety dollars trimmed back to $16.9 million.

“It would be much worse today if it wasn’t for Measure M,” McLaughlin said.

Actually, 17 of the city’s 55 sworn officers - or almost a third - are covered by other sources than the general fund. That’s because four of the officers are being paid with a federal law enforcement grant. The city has built a reserve in the Measure M account to cover those salaries and benefit once the grant runs out next year.

Both council members John Harris and Debby Moorhead agreed that steps need to be taken as soon as possible to get more police on the street.

“I’m behind what the Manteca Police Department does 100 percent,” Moorhead said.