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Lathrop mulls over possible police cutbacks due to deficit
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LATHROP – Lathrop Police offices on Seventh Street are closed on Fridays indefinitely. Business hours also have been shortened to seven hours a day, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

The abbreviated hours, along with that at City Hall, are all part of the cost-cutting measures adopted at the beginning of this month to trim this fiscal year’s $2.5 million budget shortfall.

The deficit pruning is still ongoing, with the city still looking for ways to trim the remaining estimated $1 million needed to balance this year’s budget. Right now, the focus of that additional cost-cutting effort is on the city’s Police Services.

The council though has been extremely reluctant to jeopardize public safety. First, they want some answers to very critical questions in connection with keeping law enforcement in the city. What police services can they afford to eliminate or reduce without putting the community and its residents at risk? Can the city afford to lay off one or more of its patrol officers?

City officials are still looking for answers with the least negative impact to public safety and peace.

To help them arrive at these decisions, council members held an informational meeting two weeks ago where residents were invited to give their input as to what police services could be cut back without significantly impacting their lives. Sheriff Steve Moore was also invited to attend, since the city contracts its police services with San Joaquin County supplying the manpower – that is, Sheriff’s deputies – working as Lathrop police officers.

 The review process is continuing and the council still has to make a decision, City Manager Cary Keaten said about the proposed $4.9 million police budget for 2009-10.

But, “the sooner the better,” he said hopefully about a final action by the council regarding this matter.

Once the council has made a decision as to what police services to cut back or eliminate, then his staff will start budget negotiations with the Sheriff’s Office, said Keaten.

The $4,419,576 police budget that the Sheriff’s Office is proposing for 2009-10 reflects an 11 percent increase from 2008-09. The increase is largely due to the addition of a $65,000 unit for school resource officers that is slightly offset by some proposed savings.

The Lathrop police force is currently made up of 27 sworn officers with Chief Dolores Delgado at the helm. Using the figures in the city’s general plan which sets the police staffing standard of 1.5 officers for every 1,000 residents, the resulting number of 26.5 officers just about conforms to the number of sworn officers on board.

According to a recent report submitted to the council, the 27 patrol officers, with the help of four civilian employees, handled a 9.2 percent increase in calls for services in the last two years – from 23,048 in 2007 to 25,168 in 2008. The rest of the work load included 3,324 documented reports plus 1,974 traffic citations and 580 arrests.

The police force currently serves a population of 17,671 residents which registered a 1.38 percent increase during the 12-month period from Jan. 2008 to Jan. 2009 despite the slowdown in residential building throughout the city but particularly in the west side which was one of the hardest-hit areas in the residential foreclosure mess.

Possible cutbacks in the Police Department budget is the fourth leg in a multi-pronged plan by the city to bridge the current fiscal year’s spending shortfall. So far, the following budget trimming have been taken:

• Spending reductions in every department at City Hall. These include limiting business trips and staff trainings to those that are mandatory, and cutting back certain requisitions such as new computer purchases.

• Layoffs in May which consisted of 15 positions – five of them unfilled but already budgeted. The loss of 10 city workers just about wiped out the entire maintenance crew in Parks and Recreation. The resulting savings: $1.3 million.

• Furloughs in August which reduced hours of business at city offices including the police department during the week, and closed all city offices on Fridays indefinitely. This move resulted in additional $525,000 savings in the budget deficit.