With impending contract negotiations on the horizon there is a storm brewing between the Turlock Associated Police Officers union and City of Turlock government.
Caught in the middle is Turlock Police Department administration, which is tasked with keeping officers correctly allocated in various law enforcement activities to help reduce crime and maintain the quality of life Turlock residents expect.
Via Facebook, TAPO has posted numerous public complaints regarding a quickly dwindling overtime reserve and a less-than-stellar 10- year crime clearance rate from 2003 to 2013.
Turlock Police Department Captain Carl Nielsen, who oversees uniformed patrol under Police Chief Robert Jackson, praised officers’ efforts of the past five financially tumultuous years.
“They have done an excellent job working with what we have,” he said.
Over the past 10 years TPD had the lowest average of solved violent crimes in the county. However, since 2009 Nielsen says the statistics paint another picture.
Violent crime includes murder, attempted murder, rape, attempted rape, aggravated assault (all weapon types), robbery, attempted robbery, kidnapping and attempted kidnapping.
Since 2009 the total number of violent crimes peaked at 409 in 2010 and has since fallen to 265 in 2013. Of those 265 crimes 180 were cleared by TPD, while 85 are either active or suspended. The 2013 clearance rate for those 265 violent crimes is nearly 68 percent, up from nearly 49 percent in 2009.
“Our detectives are diggers and we all take it very personally to solve these cases. Every percent (of unsolved cases) is a person and the people that care about them,” he said.
Nielsen says that one of the department’s most important activities, the Criminal Apprehension and Gang Enforcement (CAGE) unit, had four full-time officers in years past. But now it is staffed with overtime allotments from the city budget.
“Staffing in an issue, our officers are getting tired and it’s not sustainable,” he said. “The reality is that as a department you can’t do less with more. The individual officer may be able to, but not as an entire department.”
Essentially administration is forced to do a balancing act between the different aspects of law enforcement. For example, if traffic officers are diverted to theft investigations, then overall driving speed with likely increase throughout the city.
Perhaps confounding the issue is that officers have not received a raise in seven years. Paying competitive salaries can be important to maintaining a strong police force.
Nielsen says that lowering standards for the hiring of police officers or paying less than competitive wages in exchange for recruits who were raised and live in Turlock is counter-productive – especially given that the high-paying Bay Area is within a drivable commute, and that possible corruption could occur should standards be lowered to put more officers on the streets at lower wages.
“Even with the staffing issues we are committed to serving the public and improving our responsiveness to community needs,” said Nielsen.
In mid to late March Turlock police will be unveiling a proactive communication and crime-fighting tool via the social media site Nextdoor.com. More information will become available in the coming weeks.