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Withrow wants to end police services contract early; demands $2 million in disputed fees

Lathrop may be without a law enforcement presence if Sheriff Pat Withrow succeeds at pulling the plug on his department’s decades old contract with the city.

Withrow — apparently irked that Lathrop didn’t let him know they were actually going to start their own department without first telling him — may create a situation where the city of  nearly 29,000 could go as many as five months without police presence.

That is if the San Joaquin Board of Supervisors give Withrow what he wants at their Tuesday meeting. Two supervisors — Tom Patti and Robert Rickman — represent parts of the City of Lathrop.

Withrow is pushing for the Board of Supervisors to exercise a clause in the City of Lathrop’s contract with the county to effectively end the longstanding contract after a period of 180 days, which could occur as early Jan. 31, 2022.

That would cut nearly five months off the contract currently in place between the two entities, and either force the city to renegotiate a new contract with the county or look elsewhere to cover the time needed until the city’s police department is up and running.

The development is the latest salvo in the contentious argument over the decision made by the Lathrop City Council to pursue its longstanding goal of having its own police department when the contract with the sheriff’s office ends at the end of the fiscal year.

Lathrop was anticipating transferring services over to the new department on July 1, 2022 – the day after the existing contract ends.

The crux of the issue, in the eyes of the sheriff, is that Lathrop hasn’t lived up to its end of the contract – holding out on paying a portion that as accumulated, he says, to around $1.5 million.

The city has noted publicly that they’re disputed a portion of the contract and are taking it through the legal process to adjudicate it – taking the money that would go to pay that portion of the contract and holding in an account until the legal matter is settled.

In a video statement that was released to the sheriff’s office Facebook page, Withrow outlined his justification in an 8:19 video that detailed why he elected to move forward with the dissolution of the contract.

“The City of Lathrop is still in court, trying not to pay part of their contract,” Withrow said. “The county went out with their own funds – tens of thousands of dollars – and hired a firm to go over the billing that is in question and the city is saying that under Government Code 51350 that they shouldn’t have to pay those funds, and the county is saying ‘No, you’re obligated under Government Code 51350 to pay those funds.

“The government code states that we are not allowed to give any services to the City of Lathrop for free – it’s against the law for us to give any services for free.”

Withrow claimed that the county has provided the city with a detailed report outlining how the charges that are being applied are within the scope of the contract – findings that the city does not agree with.

The contract, he said, is not an attempt to pad his budget, but instead a chance to provide the services that citizens requested.

“We make absolutely zero profit on this thing – it’s a break-even process for us to protect the citizens of Lathrop and provide the services that your city council has asked for,” Withrow said. “We did this report – it’s a 16-page report – and it was supported with 386 pages of documentation to support the findings of this independent investigator.”

By invoking Section 6.1 of the county’s contract with the city, Withrow would be starting the clock on the 180-day countdown to the dissolution of the partnership that has stood since the city incorporated more than 32 years ago.

And even though the request made to the Board of Supervisors would effectively cancel the contracted police services – the contract would end of January 31, 2022, which would be far too early for Lathrop to have its police force fully operational – Withrow said that he would never abandon the residents of Lathrop.

“I am not going to let one man, or the mayor, or whoever leave you without police services – I would never do that to the citizens of Lathrop,” Withrow said. “I’m going to offer, if the county will allow me, to enter into a new contract – if the city so desires, they don’t have to – to provide basic police services for the City of Lathrop until they can continue this process that we wholly support.”

But that contract, if it were to come to that, would require three stipulations from Withrow – that the past financial issues and disagreements are rectified in the next 180 days, that any change to the future contract require a unanimous vote of the council, and that the city assume the employer liability for operating a police department.

The video also announced a recent move that Withrow made – shuffling Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biedermann back to run a new division in the sheriff’s office and the promotion of existing lieutenant Michael Alagna to the role of Acting Police Chief.

“This is kind of coming to a head. They just – the City Manager, and the mayor, apparently – don’t way to pay anything,” Withrow said. “So, to do my part to help, on Monday I transferred Chief (Ryan) Biedermann back over to my new division where I needed a Captain – saving the City of Lathrop, in their contract, approximately $350,000.

“Even though they owe me almost $2 million, I’m going to go ahead and save them $350,000 right now to help them transition to their new chief.”

Withrow’s displeasure with the way that the City of Lathrop handled the decision to end the longstanding partnership resulted in a rather terse exchange between him and Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal during a city council meeting earlier this year.

Withrow stated during that meeting that he would never abandon the citizens of Lathrop but said that he couldn’t see any way in which a new contract could be reached as long as Steve Salvatore was the city manager.

Salvatore said on Tuesday that the city was expecting that the contract that was agreed upon would remain in place and they could rely on that coverage while the city goes through the process of transitioning to its own department.

The City of Lathrop issued a statement Tuesday in response to Withrow’s video that noted that Lathrop is the only incorporated city left in San Joaquin County without its own internal police department.

“Regrettably, Sheriff Withrow has stated that he will ask the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to terminate our previously agreed upon contract prematurely,” the statement read. “If anything, today’s action reaffirms the need for the citizens of Lathrop to have their own Police Department and pave the path to their own future.

“We look forward to working with the sheriff in good faith to find solutions which provide the level of service the citizens of Lathrop have come to expect and deserve.”

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors will discuss the matter during their meeting on Tuesday, July 27, at 9 a.m. The meeting will be held at the San Joaquin County Administration Building located at 44 N. San Joaquin Street in Downtown Stockton. The chambers for the board of supervisors are located on the building’s 6th floor. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.