Manteca Police Chief Jodie Estarziau wants whatever increased manpower the department receives to go to patrol first and foremost arguing the more officers the more time that can be dedicated to traffic enforcement.
Several of the Manteca City Council members see things a little differently. While they agree there is a need to add to patrol, they also believe dedicating a part of any new positions to specific tasks would address growing citizen concerns about traffic safety as well as make the Manteca Police more effective in fighting crime.
Councilman Gary Singh and Councilwoman Debby Moorhead want a position dedicated to crime prevention — possibly a community resource or community service officer — as the city has done in the past. They believe a more muscular and engaged Neighborhood Watch effort that Manteca had more than a decade ago will significantly augment efforts to reduce crime. They made it clear at Tuesday’s City Council meeting they weren’t impressed with current department effort with the Neighborhood Watch program.
At one point in 1995, Manteca had more than 140 Neighborhood Watch groups with more than 2,000 members that were considered active in clusters of 8 to 12 households. The active roster — typically one contact per household — represented 1 out of every 23 residents. The city that year was recognized for having the most engaged police department in California when it came to crime prevention.
“No how many cops we have they can’t be everywhere,” Singh said. “Neighbors are the best way to deter crime.”
He noted well engaged Neighborhood Watch groups serve as effective eyes for the police but also are an effective conduit for police to spread effective crime prevention information. Singh added that the city-sanctioned groups get neighbors engaged which in turn sharpens the awareness of what is out of place that can be an effective way of reducing crime.
“Educating the public (is important),” Councilman Dave Breitenbucher said.
Breitenbucher pointed out robust Neighborhood Watch Groups “make it easier for the public to know what is going on.”
Estarziau said there is an officer assigned to Neighborhood Watch groups but that is not their primary responsibility.
When the City Council authorized two community resource officers 28 months ago, the intent at the time was after the homeless issue was addressed to a certain degree that they could start devoting energy to rebuilding the Neighborhood Watch program. The department wasn’t able to hire the second CRO until mid-2018.
Mayor Ben Cantu has noted his preference is for the upcoming budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 to include funding for three more police officers — two patrol officers and a traffic motorcycle officer. That would bring the department up to 75 officers and provide the traffic enforcement unit with four officers or just one less than the unit had in 2009.
Estarziau believes if the department has more patrol officers that are all trained to enforce traffic laws that there would be more time available for traffic enforcement.
The police chief told the council her first priority is patrols to prevent crime instead of simply responding to crime followed “very closely by” a stepped up traffic enforcement unit.
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