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Manteca Police manpower down 28% over last three years
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Manteca is operating today with 28 percent less sworn police officers than three years ago.

The overall crime rate of serious crimes - double digit drops in most felonies with the one glaring exception of violent assaults – is down.

And it is that exception fueled by growing gang violence that is making law enforcement arguably the key issue with many when they go to the polls in the Nov. 2 election to elect two council members and a mayor.

Police Chief Dave Bricker made it clear that having more officers back on the job would be a significant advantage in fighting crime but he cautioned it would not necessarily translate into less gang violence due to its nature.

He pointed to the gang-related murder in the pre-dawn hours last month on East Yosemite Avenue near Powers Avenue. In that case, Bricker said the suspect was deliberately keeping a lookout for police before ambushing his victims.

As an aside, Bricker said he was impressed with his officers who took just six days to identify and arrest a suspect in the case.

“I’ll put them up against any bigger department,” Bricker said.

Manteca’s current staffing level is at 59 sworn officers. That is down from a high of 83 three years ago when the department was actually authorized 85 positions but didn’t fill two of them.

The cuts were the result of municipal revenues falling off rapidly starting three years ago.

As for concerns there may be more staffing cutbacks, Bricker said they can be put to rest.

“I have a commitment from the city manager - who I absolutely believe on this - that there will be no more staffing cutbacks in police,” Bricker said. “If someone retires or leaves they are going to be replaced.”

Bricker noted that the primary responsibility of the police - patrol officers responding to emergencies - has gone unchanged. That’s because the department slashed back special units to keep patrol at full staffing.

“Our pro-active efforts took a hit,” Bricker said.

The detective staffing is down 40 percent and the gang unit has been cut 60 percent as has narcotics. Gangs and drugs efforts have been combined into a street crime unit. The traffic unit has also been reduced.

“Patrol has not been reduced,” Bricker emphasized.

He said all officers have stepped up with patrol picking up some of the slack created with reductions in the detectives unit. He also noted that many of the arrests in gang-related incidents come from efforts of patrol.

Not having a full gang unit, though, reduces the department’s ability to be pro-active. Before the cutbacks occurred Manteca officers were able to increase the number of documented gang members from 300 to 500. That is a big plus as if a person arrested for a violent crime is a documented gang member they receive significantly longer - and mandatory - prison time.

Bricker noted that a reduced gang unit doesn’t mean Manteca is taking pressure off gangs. He pointed to last week’s gang sweep involving other local jurisdictions, state and federal law enforcement that included making more than 40 contacts that ended up with an arrest of one suspect on an attempted murder warrant as well as several others for various crimes.

The police chief said the strategy is to hold off hiring any more officers with Measure M sales tax funding during the next year even if receipts increase. That’s because the city in less than two years will have to pick up the tab for four police officers who were retained by Manteca thanks to a three-year funding commitment for law enforcement through the federal stimulus program. Manteca is obligated to pay for those salaries in year four and five. Bricker noted it makes no sense to hire officers and then let them go. Instead, he’d rather retain the qualified officers who are familiar with Manteca.

Manteca is also committed to keeping four school resource officers in place. Manteca Unified dropped 50 percent of their funding in the current fiscal year. When July 1, 2011 rolls around, the school district will no longer contribute any funds.

That means the city has had to shift around $250,000 into police salaries this year and close to $500,000 from varies general fund resources.

In terms of equipment, Bricker credited his predecessor Charlie Halford for getting the department in a position to have the adequate equipment needed for officers to do their job.

The city has just finished a $250,000 update of the dispatch center with receipts from 9-1-1 taxes. The upgrade also includes a five-year service contract on all hardware and software to avoid any impact on police budgets through 2015.

The department has 26 marked vehicles and 22 unmarked cars as well as specialty vehicles such as a SWAT truck.

Several vehicles nearing the end of their useful life are being replaced this fiscal year using state and federal grants.