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The finals days of Manteca’s last police chief not nearly important as next chief
MPC car

I realize there are those that’s do not consider it water under the bridge but how Jodie Estarziau’s exit happened from her employment as the City of Manteca police chief is nowhere near as important as the criteria that will be used to hire her permanent replacement.

I get that there are people that are angry given Estarziau was discharged from her $235,873 a year position even after an outside investigation came up with no evidence of wrongdoing that would be required for a “for cause” departure but was terminated anyway.

If Estarziau wants to get the proverbial pound of flesh for being terminated that certainly is her prerogative.

But the biggest picture for the vast majority of Manteca’s 85,000 residents is not how Estarziau’s employment was ended with the city but exactly what the city will be looking for in the next Manteca Police Chief.

The day of a police chief being simply a good cop — a police officer’s police officer if you will — are long gone. Nor is being a good administrator enough or making sure the department rank and file complies with the law and established protocols.

The police chief needs to have the highest profile of any city employee — including the city manager — as how effectively they engage the public and the trust they build is absolutely crucial to how Manteca moves forward. Nothing is more basic than assuring the safety of people in their homes, workplace, schools, or in the streets whether it is on foot or in a vehicle.

They need to be the face of the department and that means getting out into the community with minimal time behind a desk.

Feedback from officers on the street is obviously essential but it is a dangerous assumption to believe that it mirrors the concerns in neighborhoods and businesses that the department is charged with protecting.

The number of crimes committed has been flat in most categories or else dropping or going up slightly for years. The crime per 1,000 residents — the way to compare apples to apples — has been dropping steadily for more than a decade.

Obviously the city needs to keep doing what it has been doing when it comes to felonies.

But that is just one aspect of what the police department deals with. By staying the course without looking for other ways to either reduce the crime rate or keep it in check risks failing to see opportunities for even more improvement.

It is virtually a given that most people have issues with traffic violations. Statistics underscore the fact a Manteca resident is more likely to die, sustain serious injury, or incur extensive financial losses not from crime per se but in traffic mishaps.

They are not traffic accidents as in virtually all instances it is either wanton disregard for the law or inattention to driving that are the contributing factor to collisions. That means higher levels of enforcement through issuing tickets for moving violations has the potential to reduce the carnage. The community’s best interest would be served by a police chief who sees it that way.

It is a lot cheaper to prevent crime than to react to it. That is why crime prevention always needs to be double downed on. For the last decade not even one officer — or even a community services officer — has been devoted full time to the effort.

Crime prevention is not simply having an active Neighborhood Watch program that the police department aggressively works to put in place instead of waiting for people to reach out to them.

And it is likely needed to be taken to the next level. Before the Great Recession hit Manteca Police Department was the point on an effort to create neighborhood “councils” — a Neighborhood Watch program on steroids.

Modeled after successful efforts elsewhere, neighborhood groups would periodically meet with representatives of the police and other departments to discuss issues and find solutions. It could be as simple as placing a garbage can at a certain location in a park that neighbors note is repeatedly trashed because students routinely going to and from school drop garbage on the ground. It could be the neighborhood wanting something done to the park, discovers the city lacks the manpower to do it, but then organizes neighbors to do the work with the city’s blessing and even some help.

Or it could address the bane of the city and residents alike — code enforcement issues. Neighborhood blight that comes in many forms needs to be addressed as a crime prevention issue as the broken window theory is more than just a theory. Once blight is established it spreads like a cancer breeding opportune conditions for criminal activity.

At the very least more effective face-to-face engagements the police — and city overall — would have a better handle on the needs of a neighborhood while residents would have a better idea of what the city is dealing with and laws that restrict their ability to react in certain cases.

Even something such as council hopeful David Martin’s idea to “put a cop on each block” by having each patrol officer park their car and spend an hour at the start of their shift walking a different block each day needs to be considered as a way to make things even better in Manteca. Martin can see impromptu shooting the hoops with teens and kids during that hour a way for police officers to build trust and respect that could go a long way toward reducing future crime problems.

One would suspect a city manager would want to see such things and more. You would also hope the person picked as police chief is not simply a team player but one that can effectively make their case for needed programs and personnel even if the initial response is “we can’t afford it” as has happened in the past even during times of relatively flush city financials. The bottom line is there are times the city can ill afford not to do something. A police chief needs to have the skills to be successful at that as well.

At the same given law enforcement consumes roughly 40 cents or every dollar spent in general fund services in Manteca they need to have the moxie to be good stewards of public fund that also includes a willingness to constantly examine whether it is being spent in the right places as well as efficiently.

City Manager Miranda Lutzow to her credit is seeking community input on the hiring of the next police chief. It will include a first for Manteca — forums where the public can tell the city what qualities they want to see in the next police chief. There will also be a community panel that is part of the hiring process that interviews candidates that make the short list.

And how well Lutzow goes about that task and securing the best person for the job is how she should be judged.