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Lathrop may have its own police force by next year
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If all goes according to plan, the Lathrop Police Department – a standalone police force employed by the City of Lathrop – could be in place as nearly as next year.

After last week’s decision by the Lathrop City Council in a special meeting to create a capital improvement project to fund the city’s first ever police department the city will now look to its consultant to put the pieces together to bring the longstanding goal closer to being achieved.

If all goes according to plan and it comes to fruition, the move will mark the end of a more than 30-year partnership between the City of Lathrop and the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office – which has provided police service to the residents of Lathrop since the city was founded on a contract basis and before that as sheriff’s deputies of San Joaquin County in an unincorporated area.

According to Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal, the city’s decision had nothing to do with the performance of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office in the execution of its contract with the city or the work that the officers themselves have been putting in to keep Lathrop residents safe.

“I don’t think that this should have any negative effect on the relationship with the sheriff’s office – we will be in contact with the sheriff for a smooth transition,” Dhaliwal said. “We never questioned their service or their commitment to the community – the main concern now is affordability and how we are going to expand the department as the city expands.

“If the city is growing the department has to grow with it and this is a way for us to move in that direction.”

Thanks to a myriad of factors including constant growth and expansion, a one-cent sales tax increase passed by voters in 2012, and fiscally conservative budgeting and management, Lathrop finds itself in the position of finally being able to strike out on its own with its own police department – the largest city in San Joaquin County not to have its own in-house law enforcement services.

Escalon, for example, has its own police department while boasting just over 7,500 residents while Ripon has long had its own police force despite having just over 17,000 residents compared to Lathrop’s nearly 27,000.

The city is currently under contract with San Joaquin County through June of 2022, and the city currently plans to honor that contract while it makes moves to prepare a smooth transition to its own force – something that will be easier now that the first police department every purpose-built for law enforcement use has been completed in River Islands.

The city’s contention is that the current contract is not sustainable given the county’s retirement costs that the city is responsible for paying as well as the startup fees for hiring new officers – something that would allow the same amount of money to go much further if it were done in-house as opposed to through a contract.

More than two years ago the city began the process of looking for an outside agency that could compete with the current contract that the city is under with San Joaquin County and nearly partnered with the City of Tracy before unexpected issues arose before the vote. Current San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow – who had not at that time been sworn-in to office – came on his own behalf to try and convince the City of Lathrop to continue the partnership, and even offered alternatives such as allowing Lathrop to hire its own officers that would work alongside sheriff’s deputies to allow Lathrop to gradually build its own force over a period of time.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.