Law and order isn’t cheap.
To put an officer on Manteca’s streets right out of the academy costs $113,500 a year. That covers the $70,000 base pay, worker’s compensation, uniform allowance, benefits and retirement. Officers contribute to both their benefit coverage and retirement funding with the latter requiring them to pay 18 percent of the cost.
Then there is the cost of making sure the officer can move around once on the street.
An equipped police patrol vehicle can run between $60,000 and $65,000 once light bars, computers, video equipment, radio, and — in the case of specific units — thermal imagers and automated license plate reading equipment among other devices are installed.
It is why it costs Manteca taxpayers close to $17 million from general fund revenues and the half cent public safety sales tax to operate police services. That covers the cost of 62 sworn police officers plus support staff and operational expenses.
• • •
Patrol cars are
now rolling offices
“When I started basically you had a car with a radio,” noted Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion. “Now you have a rolling office.”
All of the onboard computers are one of the key reasons why patrol units are often left running while an officer is away from a vehicle.
Obligacion noted if the engine wasn’t left running the electronic equipment would drain the battery.
“It (the battery) isn’t powerful enough to keep the computers and video equipment going,” the chief said.
So why not just turn the equipment off?
The short answer is public safety as well as officer safety.
Obligacion said the computers are just like yours at home or work. Turn them off and it takes awhile for them to fire back up.
The problem with officers doing that is if they get a call or need to quickly access information that would have to wait. The data they need includes locations of injury accidents and crimes in progress that threaten lives and public safety. The electronic devices reduce the amount of transmissions between the dispatch and officers. As a result the pre-computer days had slower officer response times.
When Obligacion started nearly 30 years ago, an officer had to radio in a license plate number that dispatch would then check against a data base and then call them back. Now an officer simply types in a license number on their Panasonic laptops and they almost instantly get information displayed about the car. Going a step farther, the unit with the automated license plate reader can scan license plates as the officer is driving and immediately alert them when it detects one that has been reported stolen.
Advances in technology — primarily LED lights that are significantly brighter and burn a lot less energy — has allowed the department to place more lights on patrol units. Instead of having just one light bar, they are on the doors, near the bumpers and — with newer vehicles — inside the trunk so that when an officer is making a stop and has to access the trunk he can do so without blocking the rooftop light bar with compromising visibility to other drivers.
The department is slowly phasing out its Dodge Challengers as they need to be replaced and switching to Chevy Tahoes. Not only does the front line service for the vehicles last longer —traditional sedans are taken out of patrol service at around 90,000 miles and Tahoes at 150,000 miles — but they have significantly less maintenance issues with the Tahoes.
Then there is a question of officer safety.
“Officers can slide in and out of the Tahoes,” Obligacion said.
That’s a concern when they are carrying 25 pounds of equipment on their service belt, bullet-proof vest, weapons, flashlight and other items.
“If you’ve got a 6-foot guy that weighs 175 pounds and add another 25 pounds they have to carry around all shift it can get (tiring).” the chief said.
It also means officers can get in and out of their vehicles quicker. Add that to the electronics and support staff such as community service officers as well as booking officers and it increases officer efficiency and reduces response times.
Officer well-being is always why air conditioning units in the summer are kept on when the car is parked and idling.
• • •
Overtime requirements up department costs
Overtime for officers is unavoidable.
That’s because if a serious case such as a murder, assault or a rape happens officers can’t simply drop what they are doing and go home, the chief noted.
While shift overlap helps, major crimes such as murder require overtime if there is any chance of eventually solving it.
“It’s true what they say that the first 48 hours or so are crucial,” said Detective Steve Schluer.
He noted on a recent murder case that he and other detectives worked 15 hours straight got some sleep and then worked another 15 to 16 hours straight.
Obligacion said with such major cases the first four to five days demand all of the resources the department can put toward solving it and securing evidence needed for an eventual successful prosecution.
Other factors that trigger overtime include call volume, time off, other officers sidelined with injuries, and court.
Police have no control over when they will be called into court. Typically they have to report by 8:30 a.m. and wait just like juries and other witnesses while the judges and lawyers work through the court calendar.
“Officers have to be in court even if they aren’t scheduled to work,” Obligacion said.
Officers, if they book a suspect near the end of their shift, must complete the paperwork before they go home. A jailed suspect typically appears in court within a day or two. The paperwork has to be in the hand of the district attorney and courts before the suspect appears.
The chief said the department can’t eliminate overtime by hiring additional officers due to the factors mentioned.
That said, thanks to tight management and a concerted effort on the part of officers, city paid overtime has remained relatively flat in recent years.
Offices also receive overtime for performing duties under Office of Traffic Safety grants for things such as drunken driving enforcement.
Obligacion noted a $135,000 grant may have $122,000 set aside for officer overtime.
If 10 officers work the checkpoints throughout the year, that translates into $12,000 in overtime for each officer.