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Time for Manteca to revisit wording on Measure M
Dennis Wyatt

Manteca — as of now — has one sworn police officer per 1,293 residents.  That will drop to one officer per 1,180 residents when four vacancies are filled in the next month or so, three new positions are hired in three months, and a fourth new hire is on board by Jan. 1.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police frowns upon police to population ratios being used as a basis for agency staffing essentially arguing it is too simplistic given patrol staffing allocation and deployment requirements are a complex endeavor.

What the IACP does do is refer to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics study conducted every four years on department staffing in the United States. The most recent study showed cities between 50,000 and 99,999 residents — Manteca has a population of 81,450 — have an average of 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents. That figures does not include support staff.

Based on that average, Manteca would have 146 officers as opposed to the 69 it will have when 2019 rolls around.

While there might be perceptions that Manteca is going to hell in a hand basket by the fact the city doesn’t have 1 officer per 1,000 residents meaning with 69 officers on Jan. 1, 2019 when the population will likely exceed 83,000 the city would be “short” 14 officers, the crime activity says something entirely different.

Separate out the hardcore felonies from misdemeanors, blight inducing crime, and traffic issues and you can see things aren’t as dire as they may seem. You will probably see that differently if you have been a victim of crime. However, for more than 12 years the crimes per 100,000 residents encompassed by the 12 Part One felonies the FBI tracks have been falling overall in Manteca. There may be numerical jumps on some categories but population growth dilutes the crime rate.

That said Manteca can use some more police officers. And what’s the best way to do that without increasing taxes?

For starters, the half cent public safety tax known as Measure M should be put back before the voters for a slight modification.

The Measure M language embraced by voters in 2006 split the staffing that the fund underwrites 50-50 between hiring firefighters and police officers. The measure took great pains to put language in place that required the city to continue to fund public safety from the general fund at the level it was at in 2008 — right around 63 percent — to assure it would not be supplanted.

Within that general fund, the fire department received 37 percent of the public safety revenue pie and law enforcement 63 percent. If that ratio also applied to Measure M expenditures instead of having 15 police and 15 firefighters funded with the half cent sales tax it would be 19 police officers and 11 firefighters.

Civic leaders needed the firefighters’ muscle to get the measure pass. For a variety of reasons, the firefighters union was in a much better position to effectively lobby for passage of Measure M by going door-to-door and manning phone banks than the police union was. 

All 37 frontline firefighter positions are now staffed. By the time 2019 rolls around Manteca will have 69 sworn police officers.  The original plan of 15 police and 15 firefighters has been fulfilled.

Let’s assume the next 10 years as Manteca closes in on 100,000 residents, Measure M revenue performs as it has during the first decade of its existence. The public safety tax would be paying for 30 firefighters and 30 police officers. To keep it proportional to general fund spending ratios, that number in 10 years should be 34 police officers and 26 firefighters.

It would take tweaking the language and resubmitting it to the voters for that to happen. That would assume the City Council majority is capable of making the case and does so from a pragmatic and diplomatic viewpoint so as not to trigger an effort by firefighters to campaign against such an adjustment.

There is also another way police can be made more efficient. For the past 26 years since then Police Chief Willie Weatherford borrowed the idea from San Clemente, Manteca Police has had a highly effective volunteer corps known as Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police.

The 10,167 documented hours of volunteer service they provided in 2017 helped free sworn officers from traffic control at accidents and other emergencies, helped the department’s support staff that is also stretched to do everything from necessary behind-the-scene work such as filing and delivering documents to prosecutors, and allowed for services to be provided that would never happen or would be scaled back substantially.

The graffiti abatement effort as well as the pilfered shopping carts undertaking are a success in Manteca because of the manpower SHARP volunteers provide. In 2017 they also identified and coordinated the subsequent removal of 101 stolen, abandoned, or disabled vehicles from city streets.

At one time they also issued citations for handicapped parking violations and expired registration tags on parked vehicles. That was stopped when a previous police chief believed volunteers could not be trained to do such tasks under California law. There was never an Attorney General’s ruling. The city went with the police chief’s position.

The city might want to revisit that as SHARP could be effectively deployed to help address low-key issues that have major ramifications when it comes to blight. If Manteca can fix the proverbial broken window they can stave off more crime and make what police we have on the streets even more effective.