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Plan for Tracy to run Lathrop Police services loses steam

The Tracy City Council was supposed to render the final decision about a contact for police services with the City of Lathrop on Tuesday night.

But after the Lathrop City Council failed to act on the standing offer that would have for the first time in the city’s history gone with somebody other than the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office for police protection – deciding instead to table the matter indefinitely as it waits to see what comes of a proposal submitted by Sheriff-elect Pat Withrow that would pave the way for the city’s own independent police department – the item was removed from the agenda.

And whether that contract remains something that could ever be revisited in the future, as Lathrop’s council had hoped for, remains to be seen.

According to Tracy City Manager Randall Bradley, the takeaway from the council’s decision last week to not enter into the agreement essentially led to the termination of discussions between the two municipalities.

“We were disappointed in the decision,” said Bradley – a Manteca native who graduated from East Union. “The Sherriff’s Office is a great police department and they represent us as well, so it’s not about being against them or anything like that.

“We just saw an opportunity to use economies of scale as a way to improve police services for both Lathrop and Tracy.”

Bradley said that ultimately the decision about whether the contract offer stands is up to the Tracy City Council, noting that the council was always going to have the last say on whether it would move forward.

Withrow, who promised the City of Lathrop that he would come up with something that was workable when he found out that the city was fed up with its ongoing contract and the way it was being handled administratively within the Sheriff’s Office, dropped a bombshell on the discussions last week when he disclosed that an internal poll taken by Tracy Police officers determined that 76 percent of them didn’t like the idea of partnering with Lathrop.

The proposal had the backing of both the Tracy Mayor and its Chief of Police when the offer was extended, but the revelation sent shockwaves through the council chamber and left Bradley looking for answers.

“I’m not sure it’s in the best interest of the City of Tracy to continue this process,” Bradley said when he approached the lectern last week after Withrow’s revelation. “I can only make recommendations, but it has taken a lot of time for our staff to put this proposal together, and it has impacted the way we’re hiring and doing promotions.

“It would be a difficult thing for us to continue down this path.”

In another twist to the story, and another sign than Lathrop may not be able to go back to the agreement as it was originally proposed, the same police chief that supported the contract is no longer employed by the City of Tracy.

By 5 p.m. the day following the Lathrop City Council meeting, it was announced that Larry Esquivel had been terminated. Because the issue has to deal with a personnel matter, no other information has been released about why Esquivel was let go – a move that came a full week before the Tracy City Council was set to discuss the Lathrop contract. Esquivel, who retired from the City of San Jose after working his way through the ranks to become the Chief of Police of California’s third-largest city, came to Tracy in February of 2016. 

Bradley had told the Lathrop council that the labor unit that represented Tracy’s police officers was neutral on the contract proposal, and said that some officers he talked to were excited about the opportunities that the merger presented. On the night of the council meeting he checked with both his human resources director and Esquivel, and neither had heard about the vote taken from the rank-and-file that was referenced by Withrow.

In a statement posted after Esquivel’s firing, the union that represents Tracy’s police officers said it was “extremely disappointed with the City of Tracy’s decision to fire Police Chief Larry Esquivel” and noted that he “had the full support of our membership.”

Lathrop now likely has to look towards January, when Withrow is sworn in as Sheriff, and towards Supervisor Tom Patti who said that if the city has a desire to see Withrow’s proposal come to fruition he would be willing to lobby on the city’s behalf to the rest of the Board of Supervisors who would have to ultimately approve it.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.