Overtime Adding Up for Turlock Police, Fire

David Fransen|

The Turlock Fire Department is nearly out of overtime funding and Turlock police officers are overworked, city staff says.

The revelation follows a six-month experiment by the City of Turlock to use extra overtime to offset the loss of personnel.

"We're wearing our staff out," said Turlock Police Capt. Carl Nielsen. "… It's not a sustainable solution."

Turlock councilmembers decided to use overtime to make up for reductions in public safety staffing during the 2013-2014 budget cycle. Hiring the needed four police officers and three firefighters would have cost $735,000; filling the vacancies with overtime was budgeted at just $400,000.

"The council made the choice to pay overtime to complete that staffing rather than to hire personnel," said Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman.

Turlock police have lost seven officers in total during past few years, greatly impacting patrol operations.

That loss led to the disbanding of Turlock's gangs unit, sending the officers back to patrol. The unit had seized 50 guns from criminals in the six months prior to its disbanding, and had targeted Norteño gang members living in Turlock.

The gang unit officers have helped on patrol, minimizing the impacts most Turlockers see, but the team's ongoing investigations have stopped.

"In our experience, attempting to replace the success of a full-time team by staffing overtime rarely works," Nielsen said.

Lohman said his department has successfully staffed a vacancy at Fire Station 3 using only overtime. But though the year is just half done, 76 percent of the allocated funding has already been used. Another $60,000 will be needed to maintain that staffing throughout the year, on top of the $146,000 budgeted.

The Turlock Police Department is doing better on overtime funding – just $81,000 has been spent of $192,000 budgeted. But the department is at a stage where it simply cannot do more with less, Nielsen said.

"We're performing the best we can with the resources we have available to us," Nielsen said.

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