As fibs go, it’s a whopper.
Election cycle after election cycle virtually every Manteca City Council candidate makes noises that they want to step up public safety.
The inference is clear. They say they want more police officers.
But then those that get elected defer to city management that — depending upon what councils have told them — are laser focused on keeping general reserves at 20 to 30 percent, building up other reserves, and leaving no stone unturned in the search for money to fund yet more studies such as the latest downtown study that senior staff is hyperventilating over for council to authorize for $800,000.
And if anyone is honest that study will likely end up crossing into seven figures and trigger the need for new studies. It’s the City of Manteca way.
Charlie Halford of all council members knows the drill. He is a retired Manteca Police chief.
During his stint running the department not only did his command staff constantly look at ways to deploy what manpower they had in a more efficient manner but they used technology and non-sworn staff — and often volunteers — to handle low-key and/or menial law enforcement related issues to reduce the time officers spent away from patrol and dealing with criminal cases.
It costs money to put an officer on the street. Depending on where they fall on the experience ladder along with benefits, worker’s compensation, retirement, and overtime at the mercy of a serious criminal incidents, minimum staffing issues due to injuries, court appearances on days off and such you are easily talking $250,000 on a reoccurring annual expense per officer.
Halford — as well as his predecessors and successors — knew the score. They had to deal with being lean and make it work. They also were not foolish enough to support cannibalizing other municipal functions that not only were in the same boat as being lean but did peripheral public safety functions. Examples include recreation programs that reduce juvenile delinquency and street maintenance that reduces the potential for accidents.
Manteca currently has 72 officers. Serious crime clearly is not out of control. And even with a rise in some felony categories when you base it on crimes per 1,000 residents, serious crimes in all categories have been falling consistently during the past 12 years as Manteca added 20,000 plus residents.
It is why the much ballyhooed standard of 1 officer per 1,000 residents isn’t taken as the gospel by many command level law enforcement officials that are charged with serving and protecting within the budget realties they are dealt.
Based on that 1 per 1,000 officer staffing ratio that many seem to think should be Manteca’s standard, the city by the time 2023 starts will be 18 officers short.
If Manteca were at 90 officers by 2023, what would that allow?
First and foremost adding five to the traffic unit that is at the same five-officer staffing as in 2009 would go a long ways towards addressing what Mayor Ben Cantu has aptly called “the wild west atmosphere” on Manteca’s streets.
The remaining 13 could be deployed in a number of ways that clearly would be up to the police chief and the policies delineated by elected leaders.
Some of that manpower could target homeless related issues that consume a large chunk of manpower.
They could allow stepped up neighborhood policing by patrol officers as advocated by council hopeful David Martin in the 2020 campaign. His idea was to build stronger ties with the community and sharpen officers’ command of neighborhood concerns by having them start their shifts by parking they unit on a different block each day and spend up to an hour walking the block, talking to people and even — if the opportunity presented itself — to play a quick impromptu game of driveway hoops with youth.
They could strengthen proactive crime prevention efforts.
While it is true senior city management appears to agree Manteca needs to expand the police department’s staffing by three sworn officers and a code enforcement officer to regulate and monitor legal retail marijuana sales and even go after the black market, keep in mind two things. The positions are being justified due to the need to stay on top of legal marijuana sales and will be paid for supposedly with fees assessed on transactions.
The bulk of their time, if any, would not address other day-to-day pressing law enforcement needs. In short, the city would not consider adding them if it wasn’t for the council legalizing storefront marijuana sales. Therefore when the ranks of Manteca police go from 72 to 75 (one of the four positions is a code enforcement officer) the reality will be the city would still be at 72 officers to address all other concerns.
So what is the solution?
It starts with the council having political courage to do the obvious.
Public safety consumes almost 63 percent of the general fund budget. The big revenue initiatives Manteca has put in place such as Great Wolf room taxes will likely allow the city to stay even not just with basic public safety but other government functions as well as the years unfold.
What is needed is a fairly dependable source of additional money.
The best answer is asking the voters to adopt an additional half cent public safety tax. Currently the $7 million it generates annually funds 18 police officers and 18 firefighters.
A second restricted half cent sales tax would have collect an additional $7 million a year.
And just like the current tax it would need to be written in a manner that legally binds the city to augment and not supplant the 63 percent they really already spending in general fund revenue on public safety every year.
There could be more for flexibility this time around to allow funding such as code enforcement officers, community service officers dealing heavily with quality of life crimes including enforcing truck parking as well as movements and even police/city positions dealing directly with frontline homeless issues. All of that falls under the public safety umbrella.
A specific restricted sales tax has resonated with Manteca voters three times out of three tries during the past 32 years — twice for the countywide Measure M sales tax for roads and transportation and once for the existing half cent public safety tax.
If elected officials are earnest and aren’t simply giving lip service to the idea of better public safety in Manteca, then they need to abandon their political comfort zone to advance and actively support a second half cent public sales tax to help fund a better and safer community.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com