The City of Tracy believes they can save the City of Lathrop approximately $1 million a year if they choose them to contract for police services rather than the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office.
And while that decision is still months away – the Lathrop City Council on Monday agreed to hold a study session in May when more financial numbers will be available prior to making the formal decision – the behind-the-scenes work to land the city a new law enforcement provider is already well underway.
Citing rising pension and hidden contract costs that are making the city’s current contract with San Joaquin County unsustainable, Municipal Resource Group – the consulting firm that has been looking at Lathrop’s law enforcement options for a number of years – believes that the city’s best bet at this point is continue negotiating with the City of Tracy and taking steps towards making a transition to a new provider that would also double as a step towards creating an independent police department that will eventually serve the growing community.
While the contract terms have yet to be finalized, MRG stated on Monday that a move towards Tracy would be the first step towards the long-term goal of creating an independent Lathrop Police Department – explained fully by consultant Dan Drummond who outlined why Tracy’s preliminary proposal will set the table for Lathrop to eventually branch out once the necessary infrastructure and institutional knowledge are in place.
Citing examples such as Citrus Heights with Sacramento County, Drummond pointed out that while Sheriff’s Offices are often large enough to absorb officers assigned to contact details back into their operations when the contract expires – something that San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore, Drummond said, has stated he plans to do if Lathrop goes a different direction – that option often isn’t available to standard city police departments. Being that Lathrop would have to hire the 26 police officers that are being discussed as part of the contract, once the agreed-to term is up, those officers would essentially be primed to transition into the newly formed agency.
“This contract is a step in the direction of your own department,” Drummond said matter-of-factly. “You have your ready-made staff there – you’re all ready to go with the vast majority of your officers that have been working here.
“So, it’s a real positive step in the direction of having your own department.”
According to MRG’s breakdown of the costs associated with San Joaquin County’s contract and the preliminary City of Tracy contract, Lathrop is expected to pay $7.093 million this year for police services – almost $5 million of which is the salary and benefits of the officers assigned to the city – while Tracy said they could provide the same service for only $6.046 million. The discrepancy in the numbers, the report states, is due to lower per-employee costs and reduced overhead charges and indirect staff and other costs.
Resident: Existing county
contract costs too much
A difference that great is something that Lathrop resident Lou Davis – who is currently the chairperson of the Measure C Oversight Committee – can’t be passed up.
“This is a no-brainer,” Davis said. “I love my police department, I love our chiefs that we have had here – I think that Chief Hood is doing a good job – but this is a no-brainer.
“This is just too much cost to maintain what we have with 27 officers.”
According to Davis, part of the issue with excessive costs comes from things that Lathrop can’t necessarily control – like the additional personnel that are dispatched to calls that end up costing Lathrop taxpayers above and beyond what they already pay when those responses are levied in addition to the contract.
While he said he didn’t want to rehash the past as it pertains to the contract, or denigrate those that currently protect Lathrop and its residents, Davis said he saw the Tracy proposal as an opportunity towards achieving the goal of starting the city’s own Police Department – something he feels is desperately needed in the face of massive growth.
Not everybody was so quick to jump on the Tracy bandwagon, however.
One resident, Christina Laughlin, said that didn’t see how Tracy would be able to hire 26 sworn police officers that would be assigned to Lathrop within a 12-month period and still maintain the level of experience that San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Deputies currently bring to the table. Stringent hiring requirements and a rising number of candidates that fail intensive background checks, she said, made it seem like the hiring pool would be full of entry-level personnel – something that Mike Oliver of MRG countered, citing lateral hires as well as veteran Tracy personnel that would be transferred to provide administrative oversight under the new contract.
The city is now planning on spending the next month preparing as much information as possible that can be presented to the council and the public next month when a study session is held to closely examine the options that are on the table, although City Manager Steve Salvatore warned that staff would prepare only as much as San Joaquin County made available for comparison purposes.
Going with Tracy would
table any move for
department for 5 years
The decision to contract with Tracy would likely mean that the long-term goal of starting an independent police department would be tabled for at least five years as much of the city’s savings are dependent on fulfilling the contract. A shorter two-year window would not be cost effective for either Lathrop or Tracy.
And then there’s the matter of the election. Moore is facing a June primary challenge from former San Joaquin County Sergeant Pat Withrow – who was one time assigned to Lathrop. And Withrow has publicly called out Moore for what he sees as overcharging Lathrop for its contract, and encouraged the City of Lathrop to wait until after June before making any long-term decisions – claiming that once elected he would renegotiate the city’s current contract to rates that would rival if not beat those that are being proposed by Tracy.
Part of Lathrop’s estimated savings from Tracy will come from staffing costs. According to Salvatore, the average annual cost of an officer is $70,000 less in Tracy that it is through the Sheriff’s Office, and Tracy believes it will cost between $50,000 and $150,000 to hire each new officer compared to the $300,000 that San Joaquin County has charged Lathrop.
Lifelong Lathrop resident Bennie Gatto – who was part of the group that incorporated Lathrop – reminded the council of the importance of the decision that was before them.
“It all boils down to money. All five of you were elected by the residents of this city to be prudent with our money,” Gatto said. “Your staff, your city manager and his staff, have tried to do due diligence in saving that money.
“Now, I know this is an election year, and it’s going to be tough if you guys want to get reelected, but you better make some right decisions.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.