Tuesday Turlock City Councilmembers approved a resolution to adopt a response letter by Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson addressed to the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury’s (SCCGJ) findings and recommendations on the Turlock Police Department.
Following the SCCGJ’s report of TPD’s understaffing, Councilmember Amy Bublak, a Modesto Police Officer, wanted to bring the understaffing conversation to the forefront, but other Councilmembers remained quiet on the matter.
According to an SCCGJ document, members of the 2013-2014 Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury toured the new Turlock Police and Fire Department Headquarters, located at 244 N. Broadway, and participated in Turlock Police Department ride-alongs. The Jury did so after deciding “it would be beneficial for the community” to see how TPD “interacted with communities.”
Eight SCCGJ members participated in ride-alongs between March 5 and 31, ranging from morning to late evening rides.
In the same report, Case #12-25GJ, the SCCGJ also discussed their ride-alongs with the Modesto Police Department in order to provide the same feedback.
In the “discussion” section detailing the ride-alongs, the report reads:
“The rides with each department were quite eye opening. Officers from TPD and MPD were knowledgeable about their community and showed great problem-solving skills. It was very evident at both the TPD and MPD that the officers take great pride in their jobs and communities and continue to strive to make both cities a better place to live. The SCCGJ would like to thank both the TPD and MPD officers for their service and time.”
Findings for the Turlock Police Department state:
“F1. The TPD is understaffed with sworn officers causing overtime and longer shifts for current sworn officers.
F2. Sworn officers work well with the community and are very proactive to help the community.”
The Jury’s findings for MPD were nearly identical — the department is understaffed but works well with the community. Which may have been why Councilmember Bublak asked to pull the resolution from the consent calendar Tuesday night, as the issue is one that she sees out in the field daily. She wanted TPD’s staffing issue discussed, as the SCCGJ requested the Turlock City Council to draft a response letter to the report and its findings, but the Council chose not to. Upon approval, the Council could vote to adopt Chief Rob Jackson’s response letter in place of their own response. In Councilmembers' eyes, it was a way of validating Jackson’s letter. The alternative in the Council packet to adopting Jackson’s letter in place of their own read “City Council could generate their own response, however, the response written by Chief Jackson is accurate and sufficient.”
Others, including the union Turlock Associated Police Officers (TAPO), however, saw it as a way for the Council to bypass the discussion of understaffing. Although staff has a choice of whether to join the union, TAPO currently has 100 percent enrollment of all 87 members of staff, excluding administrators, and including the positions of Police Officer, Corporal, Sergeant, Dispatcher, Community Service Officer, Animal Control Officer, Neighborhood Preservation Officer, Evidence/Property Specialist, and Detectives, according to TAPO President Turlock Police Sgt. Russ Holeman. If it hadn’t been for Bublak pulling the item from the Consent Calendar, the Jury’s report may have gone unnoticed by the public, and even TAPO.
“I asked this to be pulled for two reasons,” said Bublak. “One I’m kind of a procedure freak, so it’s a great letter and everything, I just think that we should do it in a timely fashion that we say go ahead submit it and then we don’t have to recant it for some reason this letter wasn’t adequate. And then secondly, and most importantly, is as we went through open forums discussing the water issues, the roadway issues, we also discussed public safety — and the lack of. And it directly states in [the SCCGJ report] that they, the Grand Jury, deem us not to have adequate staffing and that we’re over-utilizing our personnel.”
With her next point, Bublak directly addressed the Council, disagreeing with their decision to pass the resolution without discussing the understaffing issue.
“I think it’s important to bring this forward as opposed to just passing it without discussion or at least somebody hearing that,” said Bublak. “It’s going to continue to get more (offenders) coming back out having not had consequences for their actions, because of the way that the governor wants to release people, so it’s important that we understand we’re not adequately staffed, and those that are working are far more hours than what they should. Yes, we are trying to get more people but, I just want it to be on the forefront of your minds when people aren’t getting responses as quick as they’d want out there; when you call for the police department and they can’t come as quick because we don’t have the people.”
“Thank you, Amy,” said Mayor John Lazar in response to Bublak’s address. “Anyone else? Okay, we’ll bring it back to the Council to consider the item.”
Councilmember Steven Nascimento then moved the item, Forrest White seconded it, and the Council passed the item 5-0, with no more discussion.
“It just shows we have a lot of education to do with the council on the impact of our compensation on attracting new and lateral officers,” said Holeman. “We have faced years of cuts and are behind most communities of our size. We need the Mayor and Council’s help to compete for talent.”
Holeman explained that prior to the meeting, TAPO had not seen the SCCGJ’s report nor the response letter by Jackson.
“Turlock is a very special place,” said Holeman, on behalf of TAPO. “Many of our officers are from this community. We know what a safe, secure Turlock can look like and want to work with the community to make it happen. We believe that we must increase our staffing level and be able to recruit and compete for the most qualified applicants, including officers from other communities.”
Following the Council meeting that night, TAPO reached out to the community through its Facebook page, Turlock Associated Police Officers, with the following status:
“TAPO appreciates the fact that Council Member Amy Bublak brought up the fact that the Stanislaus Civil Grand Jury has found Turlock Police Department to be "understaffed", but we are troubled with the fact that the council failed to address the fact that the Grand Jury found that the City needs to offer, "better benefits to attract qualified candidates". In addition the 5-0 vote approving the Chiefs response to the Grand Jury is also troubling. To believe that there is no correlation between better benefits and more qualified candidates is worrisome. The fact that we have been unable to hire a single lateral officer in over 6 years, have had multiple officers leave to other agencies, and have not been fully staffed for over 18 months shows that the City of Turlock and their benefits package is not attracting qualified candidates. The citizens of Turlock deserve better!”
Indeed, according to the SCCGJ report, the recommendation to TPD on finding understaffing stated:
“R1. The SCCGJ realizes the shortage of sworn officers is due to budget cuts, but recommends stronger recruitment campaigns and better benefits to attract qualified candidates.”
But in Jackson’s response letter to the SCCGJ report, after giving thanks for their time and findings of positive community involvement, the chief writes that he does “not agree with the entirety of the comments in recommendation R1.”
“The way this short comment reads it would appear that the jury believes our benefits are lacking,” Jackson writes in the response letter. “I understand it is a very easy assumption that just by offering increased benefits more people will be interested in a position. If a little more vetting was done, it would have been realized that our health care program for our employees is better than any comparison cities in our area. To say we need better benefits alludes to the idea that our benefits package is lacking. We must remember that benefits include much more than just an employee’s salary. I anticipate in the future as our local economy improves, our employees will realize increases in their benefit packages.”
But TAPO feels that the numbers speak for themselves as far as recruitment, and tends to agree with the SCCGJ report.
“In regards to compensation, the fact that we can not attract officers from other agencies or get the best qualified applicants speaks for itself,” said Holeman, president of TAPO. “The city has been supplied with data which shows how far behind the Officers compensation is with comparable cities. This data includes overall compensation, not just pay. Officers and sergeants are about 18% behind in overall compensation as compared to other comparable cities. It is our belief that a comparable compensation package would help Turlock attract the best qualified applicants which in turn would lead to a fully staffed police department which the citizens of Turlock deserve.”
“The department has had open recruitment for over nine months and they have only been able to hire one officer. In that time two officers left to other agencies,” said Holeman. “With only about 1% of all applicants making it through the hiring process and training program, this is a highly competitive job. The City of Turlock must do something to compete with other agencies.”
Also in the response letter, Jackson gives a detailed report of the recruitment TPD has already been doing due to the understaffing. Some of the main points include:
- The department is understaffed due to five vacant police officer positions and four long term injuries.
- Over the last two years (in addition to the above vacancies) TPD cut seven additional vacant police officer positions due to budget constraints.
- Cuts were necessary and due to declining revenues into the City’s general fund, which was compounded by a loss of federal funding for four officers due to the expiration of a grant.
- TPD has been actively recruiting over the last six months.
- TPD has reinstated the practice of hiring recruits and sending them to the police academy as employees of the department.
- Recently TPD received 450 applicants for the recruit positions, and are currently testing to identify the best candidates.
- TPD plans to send two to four recruits to a police academy in September (they will probably finish their academy training in March 2015).
- TPD is also actively recruiting for those that already have police academy training as well as lateral officers already working as an officer or deputy sheriff in California.
But TAPO feels that waiting for recruits to finish the academy and train is too far off for Turlock Police.
“TAPO believes that we need officers on the streets now,” said Holeman. “Not in the nine months or more it will take for these recruits to complete the academy and the field training program. It is quite likely that these recruits will only fill the positions vacated between now and next year due to the fact that there are currently several officers in the process of being hired at other agencies and probable retirements. It's a good idea but will not fix our current staffing issues we have now.
Holeman explained that TAPO wants the issue discussed publicly and openly.
“It would be nice for the council to have an open discussion on police understaffing and its impact on the community,” said Holeman. “And then paying attention when outside experts provide a path to a solution for that very problem.”