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Majority says keep contract with sheriff for now, at least
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LATHROP – The idea of a Lathrop Police Department sounds good to practically everyone who spoke during Monday’s workshop on this hot-button issue.

But the sound of money gushing out of city coffers – meaning, residents’ pocketbooks – to make that dream a reality is just not practical and prudent, for now, they said.

Preliminary numbers crunched by the Matrix Consulting Group of Palo Alto indicated that for the city to have its own Lathrop Police Department alone would cost approximately $7.5 million, about $2.5 million more than the city currently has in its general fund. And that’s just the cost for the first year.

The two other alternatives presented were, 1) partnering with a neighboring city such as Manteca or Tracy, and 2) maintaining the status quo or to have the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office provide police services to the community. Total estimated cost for a partnership with Manteca would be $4.6 million, while the approximate figure for Tracy is $4.4 million.

Matrix senior manager Randy Tan emphasized that the above costs are just “feasibility numbers” and will need more specific confirmation from both cities.

Councilman Christopher Mateo urged residents present at Monday night’s gathering in the council chambers at City Hall to “speak up; that’s what this session is all about, not just the money.”

The concerned residents did not need prodding. All were eager to give their two-cents worth.

The cost involved in setting up a Lathrop Police Department is “a little high,” said former two-time mayor Gloryanna Rhodes, but she would like to see the city have its own police department “before I die.”

The costs for a stand-alone police department, or for a partnership with either Manteca and Tracy are “surprising,” she said, expecting them to be “smaller.”

But, she concluded, “I’ve always been very satisfied” with the Sheriff’s police services in Lathrop.

“I have no complaints with the Sheriff’s Department. The issue here is, can we afford our own (police department)?” commented former councilman Steve Dresser and a candidate for mayor on Nov. 2.

If the city has to pull money from its reserves to establish a police department, “we need to think about that. It would be foolish to spend money right now for a stand-alone (police department),” he said.

Besides, he added, the city’s crime rate has remained “flat,” according to police reports.

“What they’re doing is obviously right if we have a crime rate that is flat. Can we afford to gamble on that? Nobody has come up with a complaint that the Sheriff is doing a bad job,” Dresser said.

Another mayor candidate in the November elections, J. Chaka Santos, said the city simply “does not have enough money” to have its own police force right now because “we’re still young.”

Longtime resident Tosh Ishihara said he agreed with Santos, saying, “We don’t have enough money. We want it (a city police force) but we don’t have the money. Stay with what we have until the economy (gets better) in five years.”

Pat Skjervheim, who just moved to Lathrop three years ago, shared an unfortunate police incident practically the first day she and her husband Le moved into their home and found it burglarized. The police were a bit slow in responding to gather evidence, she said. Still, she maintained that they had “more experiences – good things” with the police here than in the city where they came from. They have since joined a Neighborhood Watch and are “extremely impressed” with Deputy Andrea Lopez’s work in this community movement.

Jessica McCoy, a Bay Area transplant whose family just moved to Lathrop also three years ago, said she thinks “the sheriff is doing a great job.”

She was particularly impressed, she said, when she attended a Neighborhood Watch being organized and not one but two Sheriff’s deputies showed up, along with Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal.

Like the Skjervheims, McCoy is also “extremely impressed” with Deputy Lopez who “answers e-mails right away” whenever they have to report something such as graffiti.

“They’re there within 10 minutes. We have good people that really care. I moved here from the Bay Area. There was nothing like that,” McCoy said.

One parent said she does not want to see Lathrop contract with either Tracy or Manteca because she does not want to “lose our DARE” program.

Lathrop is about the last city that still offers this program. Councilman Dhaliwal said that this year alone, Lathrop’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) – a police officer-led series of classroom lessons taught from kindergarten through 12th grade – saw more than 300 students graduate from the program.

Among the criticisms pointed out by some of the speakers involved accountability and control of police services.

Jose Perez, a planning commissioner, said he feels that a Lathrop Police Department “is the best way to go. But if we can’t afford our own department, we need to make sure that the city manager has more control of the police department.”

Monday night’s workshop was the first of three study workshops on the issues surrounding the Lathrop Police Services. The next workshop will be held Saturday, Sept. 11, at 9 a.m. at the Lathrop Community Center, 15557 Fifth Street. The third and last one will be held Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 6 p.m. at Lathrop High School, 647 W. Lathrop Road.

A copy of the Lathrop Police Services study and workshop agenda is available for viewing at the city’s web site,