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Sheriff anticipating smooth transition to city police force
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At the end of the day, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office will continue to do the exact same thing that they always have always done – provide safety and security to the residents of Lathrop as long as they are under contract to do so.

But the recent development that the City of Lathrop is making plans to transition to its own police department may have come as a surprise to the brass of the county’s largest law enforcement agency that thought that while Lathrop’s transition to its own police force was inevitable, it would have come with a little bit more advance warning and transparency.

According to Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biedermann – who is to date the only person to hold that title that had previously worked on the street in Lathrop before being promoted to head the detachment – the special council meeting last week became “contentious” largely because the sheriff’s office felt like it wasn’t included in the discussions about the best way for Lathrop to move forward.

“We’ve been intimately involved in the design and construction in the building of that new police department in River Islands and we were just talking about our next budget year and all of that stuff,” Biedermann said. “They can handle their business any way that they see fit, but it would have been nice – it wouldn’t have led to a contentious meeting – if all of the stakeholders involved were brought in to talk about these things before that point.

“And the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office is a stakeholder when it comes to Lathrop.”

While the city’s plans to eventually start its own police department were never a secret – the city nearly broke off the contract before San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow was sworn in and went with a contract with the City of Tracy because of many of the same cost issues that appear to be behind the recent decision – Withrow claimed on social media that he didn’t know that the city was pushing for an accelerated timeline until after the special meeting was announced the Friday before.

In addition to installing Biedermann as the Police Chief for Lathrop, Withrow also allowed the former Lathrop canine officer to handpick people from the personnel pool that he thought would work well in the community-oriented policing model that the sheriff’s office has long deployed in Lathrop.

And the transition from the sheriff’s office to a standalone agency isn’t the only transition that will be taking place as a result of the council’s decision – if the move comes to fruition on the timeline that the city is currently trying to meet.

According to Biedermann, the sheriff’s office will now have to figure out what they will do with the personnel that have been assigned to Lathrop and how they will be brought back into the structure of the office itself – something that he himself said is “exciting” because it will allow the sheriff’s office to do things that they haven’t been able to because of a lack of available manpower.

At the core of the issue are costs associated with the contract that appear to be more than the City of Lathrop is willing to pay for over a long period time – mainly the rising cost of retirement for the officers assigned to Lathrop under the county’s current system, and the startup costs for each new officer that is hired. Because Lathrop is growing significantly – it now has nearly 27,000 residents – the need to hire additional police as development continues is, in the eyes of the city, unsustainable under the current contract.

When Lathrop had initially floated the idea of contracting with Tracy in order to save money, Withrow – who had been elected but not sworn in – came to speak on his own behalf and offered to help the city with its transition to a new department over a period of time to ensure that everything was taken care of and the people of Lathrop will have a smooth transition without service interruptions.

With the move already underway, Biedermann said it go back to business as usual until the time that they are told that they aren’t needed.

“At the end of the day we wanted to be involved in the conversation about the transition because we care about what is best for the citizens of Lathrop. No matter what, if the contract expires, our office will always protect the city until we’re not needed – because of that relationship and the rapport we have with the citizens,” Biedermann said. “I love it there – I know everybody I everybody that I come into contact with daily on a first name basis.

“We aren’t going to leave them unprotected for the failures of our leadership to involve us like they should.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.