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Manteca, Tracy, Ripon cops join forces
Bricker shares policing in a new economy strategies
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Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker tells Rotarians about the challenges in his department and how he intends to meet them head on. - photo by GLENN KAHL
“Policing in a new economy” is all about strategically getting the most bang out of the buck with fewer officers and resources, Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker told Rotarians at their Thursday noon meeting at Isadore’s Restaurant.

Proactive policing in Manteca has been greatly reduced by the elimination of specialty units due to The Great Recession that put the brakes on crime before it got started, he noted.
Policing in the new economy will only be possible by partnering with other agencies to continue with the 11 consecutive months of crime reduction that Manteca has enjoyed despite a 30 percent reduction in staff.  

“We’ve always had a great relationship with the Sheriff’s Department, with Tracy PD and particularly with Ripon Police Department.  We’ve always worked in cooperation with them – we have members of the Ripon Police Department on our SWAT team.  We’ve always worked closely with them and we are very close friends with them,” Bricker said.

Manteca is now developing a joint SWAT team that will include Tracy, Ripon and Manteca officers.  The operation of a SWAT team costs the city $198,000 a year. The canine unit costs $129,000 annually that will now be shared with the other nearby departments.  

There has recently been an uptake in gang violence with a number of shootings.  

“We’ll be blowing up houses all over town in the next couple of weeks.  You’re going to see a lot of different patches out there: Tracy Police Department, FBI, Sheriff’s Department, and DEA.  We’re all working in partnerships now with less and less resources.”

Bricker said it is imperative that he reach out to other agencies and their resources, because it is going to get worse before it gets better.  His forecast for the Manteca Police Department – feeling that his house is now well in order – sees some rainbows on the horizon.

Light at the end of the tunnel – in a few years that is
He mentioned the Bass Pro Shops and the outlet mall shops that are coming on line: “It’s going to be very big for us as sales tax revenues go to the City of Manteca,” he said.  The city has done a lot of work to keep jobs in Manteca such as the case with B.F. Funsten expansion on South Main Street encouraging it to double its size.  Working with the owners of what was Sexton Chevrolet is bringing in JM Equipment that sells and services forklifts and farm equipment and bring at least 60 jobs into the community.  

“We’re going from a $17,000 car to a $150,000 piece of farm machinery that will bring those retail sales into Manteca,” he said. This will make a sizeable difference in the city’s sales tax revenue, he said of the new tenant at the Sexton location.

Those are a couple of bright spots on the horizon, albeit a couple of years down the line, he noted. Bricker said the city has been able to manage the operations fiscally so the city is going to be able to make it through the next couple of years without asking any more reductions from the employees or losing any more staff members – assuming that the state stays out of the city coffers.

“I got this job almost two years ago now.  Three days after they said, ‘you’re the acting police chief,’ the acting city manager called me in and said we were going to cut a half million dollars out of last year’s budget.”

Bricker said with some cuts they were able to come in under that budget.  In the meantime the new city manager came in and within a few weeks of his taking the job he called a meeting of all his department heads telling them the city had the worst general fund deficit of any city in the Central Valley.  

The deficit was worse than Vallejo at the time that city declared bankruptcy.  Out of $37 million the city was coming in $14 million over budget, he said.  That was an instrumental number to get to that point, he added.

“In 18 months we have been able to close a $14 million gap,” Bricker said.  “Enough that we are going to make it through the rest of this fiscal year – assuming that the state doesn’t come in and take any more money from us.”

The state is a minimum of $22 billion in the red right now, he added.

“They have made no significant cuts or changes in the way they are spending money.  If they continue to spiral down a never ending hole, the people who will suffer the greatest degree of impact are education and local governments because we are trying to keep our houses in order.”

Funding drops $4M for police during Bricker’s watch
He explained how that equation impacts the police department – in a number of different ways.

“Between the time that I took the job, and the last 18 months our budget has dropped $4 million,” he said.

The chief further noted there is not a lot of fat in local government, saying the police department has even less with about 83 percent of the total budget being payroll for officers and non-sworn administrative staff.  With police department staffers being union they all have a contract which limits to reducing payroll and benefits.

The contracts guarantee their salaries and benefits, and the city doesn’t have a lot of control in trying to close the funding gaps.  The chief said they were able to make cuts in overtime, specialty programs and projects while applying for every grant available for police departments.

“We moved all of our capital requests, all of our cars into grants. There was simply nothing more to cut and we were still over budget.”  He said the city manager went to all the bargaining units entertaining concessions that would help close the funding shortage.

Bricker said after failed attempts to eliminate the gap he was forced to lay off 12 police officers in October.

A cop for roughly 33 years, the chief said there was not a year when he did not receive a raise.  All part of being a government employee, you got a raise every year and your job was pretty much sacrosanct.

“The old saying used to be: ‘Cops jobs are hard to get but impossible to lose – they won’t take it from you, you have to throw it away’ – not necessarily the case anymore.”

Bricker added the fact is a police officer costs the city about $100,000 a year, being so far out of budget that the only way they were going to make additional cuts was to reduce the compensation of all the employees or the number of employees compensated.

The non-sworn staff took a 20 per cent pay cut – 15 percent in contracted agreements and another five percent in furloughs.  The officers took five percent in furloughs, and he was forced to lay off the dozen officers, he said.

That means between the six positions that were already being held vacant, the positions that were going to be retired and those not to be back filled left the department with 55 officers.   Two years ago when Chief Charlie Halford retired from his position the police department had been authorized some 85 officers, he said.

“We are at pre-1999 staffing levels now,” he noted.

The chief stressed that if government has one responsibility – the first responsibility is to respond to the safety of the citizens.  “That’s police and fire that make up some 60 percent of the city’s general fund.”

To make up and compensate for the funding shortfall in the Manteca Police Department, Bricker said almost everything that wasn’t patrol related was eliminated.  

“When I first started as a police officer, all officers were generalists.  That means if I ran out to a call, I was expected to take the photographs, take the fingerprints, do the investigation, and if I gave it to detectives, I had better have run this (case) until the wheels were falling off,” he lamented.

The department reached the point where the agency was large enough, detectives were big enough that the department was specialized enough to have different people to doing different jobs.  

Back to the old school of law enforcement
“We’re back to the old school law enforcement,” Bricker said.  “I’ve basically eliminated the narcotics unit, eliminated the gang unit, and combined what was a 12 officer street crimes unit down to five.  Our detective division has been cut in half; our traffic unit has been cut from five officers to two.   Everybody who was in these special assignments is now on patrol.”

He said the only unit he did not diminish in size was the school resource officers, because he feels fortunate to share the costs with the school district where they pay for half of the police coverage.

“When a person dials 911 a police officer still shows up at their door,” he said, being the necessary core service through direct contact patrol work.

The proactive policing took the greatest impact through the departmental cutbacks, he noted.  

“We had a narcotics unit and a gang unit that did nothing but pound the gang problem,” he said.  

It was all about “displacing crime” making it so inconvenient in the community that if they didn’t want to stop being a crook they could go somewhere else.   Our responsibility is in Manteca, and I really don’t care if they’re stealing cars in Tracy,” he added.

The proactive gang unit and the proactive narcotics unit were doing the job of discouraging offenders to break the laws in Manteca, he said.  

Bricker said there is no plan of action if the state takes more of the city’s funding.  It depends on just where they decide to take it.  “We anticipate the state is going after our gas or transportation taxes next – that fund 100 percent of the city’s street department with its last remaining eight employees.”

He said if that occurs the city will lose the eight staffers who maintain the 200 miles of paved roadway within the city limits.  “We’re way past the city being able to cut out the fat, past the muscle and meat, we’re actually down to the beating heart of what is left of our employees.”

Overall the city has reduced its staff by about 100 employees.  In the police department Bricker said he has cut out half of his management staff – so the few left who are overtime exempt have cots in their offices and they don’t go home much.

 “Our focus and our commitment is to maintain the officers on the street, the public safety and our ability to respond to 911 calls,” he said.