Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu is absolutely correct.
A lot of the quality of life issues that ail Manteca could be greatly reduced or go away if the city simply used what is arguably this community’s most effective and greatest asset — volunteers.
But those who see Manteca through the shades of windows at the Civic Center have seen fit to engineer responses in such a manner to Cantu’s suggestion that Manteca Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) be enlisted to issue select citations as they have in the past that the council simply nodded in agreement it wasn’t a good move and dropped Cantu’s idea.
The people elected to put together the municipal puzzle called Manteca in a bid to move toward a complete community where quality of life issues matter as much as $180 million private sector investment such as Great Wolf were only given a select few parts of the puzzle. As a result staff got the result they wanted from the council which was to dismiss Cantu’s idea of having the SHARP unit to at least issue tickets for handicapped parking violations.
The three pieces that the staff gave the council was that tickets issued by SHARP volunteers were fraught with errors, that they were put into unsafe situations in which they were physically threatened because they were issuing tickets, and — for want of a better way to explain it — were mouthy.
To back up the contention that volunteers issuing tickets they tossed out a statistic that the last year when SHARP wrote citations that the administrative sergeant in reviewing all tickets written by both volunteers and sworn officers had to spike 117 tickets. While they didn’t know how many of the tossed tickets were issued by SHARP volunteers they noted the following year when the SHARP was no longer writing citations, the number of rejected tickets was a tenth of that amount.
On the surface that seems like an astonishing error rate. However the council was forced to make a judgment call in a complete vacuum. That’s because staff failed to provide the elected council with another critical number — how many tickets did the SHARP volunteers actually issue.
Jack Snyder — a no-nonsense type of guy who holds the record for the longest serving council member in Manteca at 26 years — also served 13 years at the helm of SHARP when the rank and file volunteers gleaned from the community built an effective force of 92 to augment day-to-day policing efforts and were looked upon as “the” model for volunteer police assistant units in California. SHARP to this day continues to be highly regarded and highly effective while freeing up officers for more pressing matters.
Snyder was in charge of SHARP during the six years they were issuing tickets for a variety of violations. In the first five years Snyder indicated SHARP volunteers issued on average more than 5,000 tickets a year. In the sixth and final year they issued more than 6,000 tickets based on Snyder’s recollection. The staff believed that 100 or so of the 117 tickets that the administrative sergeant had to reject that had been issued by SHARP was around 100.
Police Chief Estarziau believes the number is closer to 3,000. Even if that is the case, the loss of SHARP ticket writing left a big hole. She also said that her understanding is state law currently only allows volunteers to be trained to issue tickets for handicapped parking violations.
Take a look at ticket writing numbers gleaned from the city’s annual crime statistics report. In 2011 — a year in which SHARP ticket writing was curtailed and there was full year of a cannibalized traffic unit in the Manteca Police Department that was slashed from five to three officers due to the Great Recession there were 5,006 citations issued. Take away the ones that SHARP volunteers could never write such as for DUIs and moving violations it leaves 3,918 tickets.
Taking the staff at its word that means just over 1 in every 400 citations issued by a sworn police officer was rejected by the administrative sergeant. The rate was 1 in every 60 situations for SHARP issued tickets based on Snyder’s recollection or 1 in 30 based on numbers Estarziau believes are correct. While it is true there was 10 times the number of tossed out tickets that were issued by SHARP volunteers as opposed to sworn officers, the SHARP volunteers based on the lower number of 3,000 issued on their own wrote just a little more tickets than sworn officers did for violations both could issue citations.
By unplugging SHARP, there are now either 2,900 or 5,900 less valid tickets in a given year issued that pass legal muster. Last year when you take out the DUI and moving violation tickets, Manteca Police issued 2,963 citations or roughly the same number of kosher tickets SHARP volunteers issued in their final year.
Taking a wild guess, perhaps the real problem was the administrative sergeant’s workload of reviewing 3,000 to 6,000 more tickets besides what officers could issue. In fairness to the department that also was right around the year the department by a decision of officers to not take a pay cut as other departments did to deal with shrinking municipal income that was the result of the Great Recession led to 12 sworn officers losing their jobs in budget cuts.
For the record, the official reason the city gave back then for pulling the plug on the ticket writing duties for SHARP was due to an attorney general’s opinion it may not be kosher. It was an opinion and not a ruling. It’s a big difference.
SHARP volunteers were entrusted for six years to issue citations for violations involving handicapped parking, expired registration, parking for longer than 72 hours and for trucks parking throughout the city on streets that were not truck routes.
The SHARP effort is why Cantu and others can remember there was a time in Manteca when truck drivers didn’t dare just to park where they felt like it, oversized vehicles hadn’t taken over the streets, and there weren’t wholesale handicapped parking violations. That’s because most people feared they might actually get a ticket for breaking the law thanks to the efforts of the SHARP unit.
In addition select SHARP volunteers paid visits to those who had not renewed dog licenses and business licenses as well.
City staff is telling us just wait until we get the new oversized vehicles rules in place as well as a new truck route plan. Just wait for what? The level of enforcement won’t increase because they also tell us they lack the manpower and it’s only done when there aren’t more pressing priorities. They also concede weekends can be a free for all because they lack the staffing.
The SHARP effort over a decade ago involved four teams the police trained in the proper way to write tickets who worked voluntarily seven days a week to address the whole slew of quality of life and safety issues that the police can’t stay on top of today.
It is clear that staff didn’t want SHARP issuing tickets — even for handicapped parking violations. But given the other pieces of the puzzle the council wasn’t provided with when they made their decision, is that what the council really wants?
And — based on Estarziau’s understanding of state law — shouldn’t the council at least have given serious consideration to have SHARP volunteers to write tickets for violations that Cantu originally asked they be considered to do for handicapped parking violations?
If Manteca won’t look out for some of its most vulnerable citizens who are handicapped when they have the opportunity to do so, what does that say about us?
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.