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Manteca, Lathrop joint police venture?
Facebook comments almost derailed further discussions
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Various possible joint ventures for improving public safety in Manteca and Lathrop - from a combined metro police force to contracted services - are ideas that may be explored in the coming months by elected Manteca and Lathrop leaders.

Public safety is just one of the mutual topics that have surfaced in what have been described as “very preliminary” talks between the two cities. Another includes finding ways for Lathrop to possibly access additional wastewater treatment plant capacity.

The bid to find more common ground for cooperation started last year on a low-key basis. The effort was suspended during the campaign waiting for new councils in both cities to be elected.

Manteca City Manager Karen McLaughlin on Wednesday confirmed the possibility of stepping up what are called 2x2 meetings between the cities. The meetings consist of two elected leaders from each jurisdiction. The 2x2 meeting proposal is expected to be brought back before the Manteca City Council in the coming months.

Exploring the creation of a joint police force is just one of the ideas. Others include Lathrop contracting police services with Manteca.

A combined effort of some sort also has a precedent. Lathrop has contracted with Manteca for years to provide animal control shelter services.

Elected leaders have repeatedly noted that everything is in the discussion stage and that nothing may come of the effort. Leaders in both cities have stressed they have an obligation to examine all scenarios to make sure they provide the absolute best service to their respective constituents.

Lathrop currently contracts police services with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office. Lathrop retains oversight of the Lathrop Police Services. Nothing specific has been floated about any joint policing effort other than the fact all options should be explored and weighed.

The seeds for stepping up 2x2 meetings were planted while resolving a legal tiff over the CenterPoint Business Park that is expected to break ground soon in northwest Manteca. After leaders hammered out a mutually satisfying agreement to avoid a lawsuit, they decided it would make more sense to communicate more openly - and possibly work jointly - about common concerns.

Manteca in the past has sued Lathrop over the wastewater treatment plant and the amount of money the neighboring city was paying for their share of the capacity. Lathrop sued Manteca over the Big League Dreams project and the adjoining Stadium Retail Center both of which evolved around traffic impacts. Both lawsuits were resolved.

Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford and Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal have repeatedly expressed interest in examining potential ways the two adjoining cities could work together to deliver services more effectively and efficiently. They are working from the belief that the 88,000 residents of the two cities could in some cases be better served by pooling resources while at the same time maintaining local control.

 The possibility of more intense 2x2 talks was almost derailed this week when some elected leaders in Manteca became aware of a Facebook posting by Lathrop Councilman Omar Ornelas. They felt the posting questioned the integrity of the Manteca Police Department.

Ornelas’ comments were on a Facebook account maintained by the family of Ernesto Dunez Jr. It demands “justice” for Deuenez who was shot to death in June 2011 in a confrontation with Manteca Police office John Moody. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office has since determined the shooting was within accepted parameters. The family has a $25 million lawsuit pending against the City of Manteca in federal court.

The posting and accompanying photo has since been removed by Ornelas.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s Lathrop’s business,” Weatherford said of the Facebook posting,

Weatherford did say the fact it has been removed has eliminated a potential issue.

“We don’t need any distractions,” Weatherford said of the process designed to see if the two cities can work better together.

McLaughlin said that she could not speak for what Ornelas’ intentions were but noted some could view it as questioning the integrity of the Manteca Police Department. If that were the case, she noted it would be awkward for city leaders working together to explore cooperative public safety undertakings.