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Lathrop may work toward having its own police force

The Lathrop City Council has spent more than 18 months trying to figure out what its next step should be for law enforcement services in the city.

So, what’s five more?

In front of a packed house on Monday night the council voted unanimously to table the vote over whether to agree to a contract with the City of Tracy to provide police services to the community for the next five years indefinitely – ending an ongoing debate and giving Sheriff-elect Pat Withrow the opportunity to make good on his promise to give the city a better deal than what they had been receiving over the last several years of their contract with San Joaquin County.

Withrow, who spent more than 10 years assigned to Lathrop during his time as a Sherriff’s Deputy, threw a wrench into the works when he submitted a tentative proposal that would allow Lathrop to transition into its own independent police force while at the same time operating under a contract with the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Office – using a model he says is currently in place between the police force at Stockton’s University of the Pacific and the Stockton Police Department.

The catch? Withrow has to wait until Jan. 8, 2019 when he is sworn in as Sheriff before he can officially lobby the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors on behalf of a community that he says will always hold a special place in his heart.

While the meeting was at times contentious and even a little bit personal, Withrow defended his involvement in the discussions as an honest attempt to ensure that Lathrop residents get the same level of service they have always enjoyed while at the same time achieving the longstanding goal of being independent when it comes to law enforcement services.

“I will do all that I can do to lower the cost of this contract – if you come to me later and say that you want to eliminate some positions, I will be on board for you to do that,” Withrow said. “I just want to do what is best for the citizens of Lathrop – that’s all I’m asking. I don’t have all of the answers, and in a month, I wasn’t going to find all of the answers – I was just as surprised as anybody else to be coming out on top.

“But I thought there was a way to save you money and to reach your end goal.”

According to Withrow’s unofficial proposal – that was theoretically given the green light by San Joaquin County Counsel Mark Myles – the city would contract the same way they always have with the sheriff’s office, but would start out by having three of those positions be reserve Lathrop Police officers under a completely different pay and retirement structure. By not using the county’s retirement system, the city would save upwards of $53,000 per officer, per year, and the contract would be written to allow the city to add additional personnel to its own force and slowly phase out sheriff’s deputies.

The option would also exist for the city to hire its own Chief of Police, saving even more money. By using the information prepared by the City of Tracy and the city’s own consultants, the lower start-up costs for hiring new officers – either trainees or academy graduates – would further compound the savings.

What wasn’t made clear Monday, however, was the fate of the standing proposal made by the City of Tracy for the contract services. According to Withrow, an internal poll conducted by Tracy Police officers revealed that 76 percent of them didn’t want the contract to go through, and that revelation caught current Tracy City Manager Randy Bradley off-guard – leaving him to hint that he didn’t know whether the offer still stands.

“Based on some of the social media that has come out, there are some challenges that would it very difficult to continue with this,” Bradley told the Lathrop council. “I’m sure it is in the best interest of the City of Tracy to continue this process. We can only make recommendations, and it’s a difficult thing for us to continue down this path.”

The capacity crowd seemed to overwhelmingly back Withrow’s proposal, and San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti – who started attending Lathrop council meetings with current Sheriff Steve Moore to advocate for the ongoing relationship between Lathrop and the county that has been in place since the city’s incorporation – said that he would fight for Lathrop when it came to getting the approval of the majority of the Board of Supervisors if that is something that the council wanted him to do.

“You can task me, your county supervisor, to be a champion on behalf of what has been presented,” said Patti – noting that he wouldn’t have to wait until Withrow is sworn-in before advocating for his constituents. “I have great appreciation and respect for all of you, and as your county representative I’m in support of whatever your decision is.

“I will be a very strong proponent of this for because I support Lathrop.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.