By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
They all agree: Hiring back cops top priority for Manteca
Placeholder Image
Everyone running for municipal office in Manteca is in agreement on one thing - they want to restore police manpower as soon as possible.

But on an inquiry of how could they jump start it within the current budget year, only two candidates Mayor Willie Weatherford and challenger Ben Cantu got anywhere close to a specific idea on how to do it when responding to a question about public safety during Wednesday’s San Joaquin County League of Women’s candidates’ forum.

Cantu said he would scrutinize all other departments after he is elected and push to save between $250,000 and $300,000 that is needed to bring back two of the 12 officers laid off once benefits and workmen’s compensation is factored into the equation. Weatherford said he’s been monitoring revenue and believes the City Council is in a position to revisit additional police funding by January.

Cantu and Weatherford were two of the four mayor candidates attending the forum co-sponsored by the Manteca Bulletin. The other two are Carlon Perry and Debby Moorhead. There are four council hopefuls seeking two seats - incumbents Harris and Vince Hernandez along with challengers Samuel Anderson and Richard Behling. Anderson was not in attendance Wednesday.

Weatherford, a former Manteca police chief, was the first to speak saying he was in favor of bringing officers back as soon as possible.  “When we get to the point of how we pay for them,” he said.

With sales tax revenues and inducements to bring business into the community, Weatherford said the city is probably in better shape now to bring officers back.  

“Don’t tell Tracy or Stockton and a lot of cities around us – after the first of the year we will revisit that and see if we can have some police officers back,” he said.  “We need to revisit contracts – we have some contracts that are expiring with the bargaining units – that can help.”

Weatherford said he believes police officers  would be willing to look at its contract as the city needs to continue to promote jobs. “Along with that we have an opportunity and we are looking at a project that has a potential of bringing $7 million a year to the community,” he noted.  “The point being is we are going to be at a point in the near future to look at what it takes to do that and not only for the police department but for the fire too – fire has been very patient.”

Moorhead said, “Absolutely, we need to increase more uniformed police officers.”

She said she never wanted to see anyone get laid off from the police department. “That was really difficult – we need our police and we need our fire,” she stressed.

Moorhead said she feels the city needs to search out additional grants or some other means to help support the police - aware that the police contract expires at the end of next year.  “Negotiations have started and I am hoping we are going to have a meeting of the minds, because our community needs our police,” the city council member added.

Hernandez weighed in on the police staffing issue saying that under the current fiscal constraints the city has to ensure a level of protection that makes the public feel safe.  

“Having that been said, we have to find a means to generate the revenue to do that and that’s where we are continuing to strive forward with business opportunities brought to Manteca to generate the revenue for public safety and hiring back those officers.”  

Hernandez said in addition to the police the council must reestablish the services needed in the fire department.  

Quoting the fire department’s creed: “Professionalism, respect, integrity, dedication and excellence – and for me that goes for the police department as well as the police department, they have pride in what they do,” he said.  “We need to support them fiscally.”

Behling: Public safety city’s primary task
Also speaking to the rehiring of police officers, accountant and council candidate Behling opened with, “Speaking of the Wild West, the first time land owners got together and hired themselves a sheriff to protect their property that was the beginning of government.”

He argued that the policing function of city government is the city’s primary task, he said.

“People cannot outsource this use of force and the people cannot use force individually except for very limited circumstances of self-defense.  The policing functions are: law enforcement, code enforcement, animal control, fire protection and building safety and probably a few others,” Behling offered.

He noted that policing in its entirety must take priority over and all other expenditures in city government.  

“To pay for it every general fund program, including administration and support as well as the enterprise and debt service funds for infrastructure need to be closely examined for cuts, and or true transfer to private enterprise,” Behling insisted.

Staffing will shrink and labor contracts will be restricted to very short terms, he added.  Pay and benefits should be brought into line with the private sector with revenues increasing along with the general economy with the same theory as the RDA tax increments on property values – as long as the city “does not bribe” big businesses with tax offsets – as long as the city does not strangle small business with taxes, fees and undue regulations, the candidate said.

“Government is supposed to be a servant and not a master,” Behling said.

Harris noted he had been a probation officer in San Joaquin County for 32 years and in favor of bringing the Manteca’s force back up to strength.  For 13 of those years he had worked as a probation officer in an office adjoining the local police department.

“It was very painful to see them reduce their ranks, but the same thing happened to me as a probation officer in the 1970s,” he recalled.  “A lot of the officers left and our case loads went up.”

Harris said the city is going to have to look at innovative ways – the chief right now is looking at some innovative ways to add some police officers, but the legalities have to be checked out.”

What Harris said bothers him more is that the county has a lack of beds at juvenile hall and at the county jail with the county laying off eight deputy district attorneys.  “That means basically the misdemeanors will not be prosecuted – they will beat the police officers back home,” he said of those charged with crimes.

The council member said the lack of consequences at the county level needs to be addressed.  Manteca could have a police officer on every corner and if there is no prisoner retention or no punishment, those officers will have no effect.

Cantu said he has been asked repeatedly at the grocery store and the gas station about public safety and the laying off of personnel at the police department.

“That action was a result – and I hate to keep repeating myself – the problem is the process of budgeting, and the process of administration of the city’s resources go back to the same problem every eight to 10 years,” Cantu said.

He recalled that police officers were laid off in the ‘70s, in the ‘80s, the ‘90s and in 2000.  The same reason is that the council jumps on the bandwagon when there is an economic boom and doesn’t plan for the bust, he said.  

“That happens every eight to 10 years,” he stressed.  “My answer to the people was that I will go through the books.  I will rearrange priorities.  I will find funds for at least two police officers and I will put them in a gang unit and over the next four years, eight years, I will look to return the 12 that the residents voted for and approved in the sales tax vote,” Cantu concluded.

Perry said that, of course, the answer is yes to bringing back the laid off officers onto the force – it’s yes for everybody,” he said.

He said that they should have never been laid off in the first place saying he was “absolutely stunned” to hear the comments of the candidates talking about funding and laying off police officers and talked about how we’re going to get them back.

“We’re going to go out and create new jobs to help fund police officers?  Yet, I’ve heard every one of you tonight say that we have an opportunity to look at one simple way of trying to generate some money – and that is taking a look at privatization to run our library and to fund other things.  

Perry said prioritizing the budget is definitely an issue, jobs are an issue, but they are not willing to look at innovative, creative ideas to try to save or create new revenue from the existing revenues, “but you are sitting there already saying ‘we will but we have to go out and find the money and we are going to find jobs.’”

Raising his voice, he asked, “Where have you incumbents been for the last four to eight years?  Why don’t we have those same jobs you are talking about tonight?