Both the Turlock Police and Fire Chiefs met with City Council as part of a series of workshops, included in Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth's 100 day vision, to discuss the future plans of public safety, which includes fully staffed departments.
At this time, both the Turlock Police and Fire departments are understaffed, especially compared to about five years ago.
The Turlock Police Department, which peaked with about 86 sworn officers in 2009, has 78 allocated positions for officers currently; of those 78 positions available, 72 are filled.
In addition to having six current openings within the police department, there are currently 10 officers that are not fully operational — two are in training, four in the academy, and four with long-term injuries.
Even with current low staffing numbers, Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson is optimistic that the department will soon fill its available positions.
“I’m very optimistic that by the end of this fiscal year we’ll have all of our positions filled,” said Jackson.
To strategically fill these positions and allow the department to grow in the coming years, Jackson outlined a three phase plan that would bring staffing back to 2009 numbers.
Phase one of the plan includes hiring another corporal for the department, as well as converting a rotational detective to be a permanent detective.
Currently, according to Jackson, officers are moved from patrol to detectives for four years before returning to patrol. While the detective training helps officers once they return to patrol, a permanent detective could further training. Jackson said the permanent detective would likely focus on cyber crimes.
In addition to staffing components of phase one, which would add nine new staff members and convert some part-time employees to full-time, Jackson would also like to reinstate the canine unit.
While phase one of Jackson’s plan for the Turlock Police Department is mostly focused on staff, phase two would likely introduce lots of new technology for the department.
Jackson believes that police officers will soon have to wear body cameras, so the department will be looking into purchasing those during phase two.
“I’m anticipating it’s going to be a mandate from the federal or state level,” said Jackson. “So I’m hoping, with mandates a lot of the time comes funding, so hopefully there will be some funding attached to it."
Finally, during phase three, the Turlock Police Department will begin reinstating officers that helped on some regional task forces, including the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force (StanCATT), and finally see the Turlock Narcotics Enforcement Team fully staffed.
The three phase plan would cost nearly $2 million out of the general fund, which is why Jackson has it split into phases rather than a three-year plan.
“The last staffing plan we did it as three years and that really didn’t work out that well,” said Jackson. “It’s really not based on a calendar for this, it’s based on funding."
Despite the optimistic plan for the Turlock Police Department, the plan cannot succeed without qualified candidates to fill new positions, which is a large concern from Turlock Associated Police Officers President Sgt. Russell Holeman.
Within the last two years, the Turlock Police Department has lost several officers to other agencies in the area. Holeman is calling that City Council give Turlock police officers competitive pay and benefits.
“When you look at the Chief’s phases, you’ll notice each phase requires more bodies,” said Holeman. “We’re currently unable to get qualified staff right now…so I would just like to reach out to the Council of the importance of filling the positions we have now by getting the most qualified applicants."
Currently, public safety, which combine police and fire services, makes up about 80 percent of the general fund.
Turlock Fire Keep Quick Response Times Despite Increase Call Volume
Much like the Turlock Police Department, the Turlock Fire Department is currently short-staffed — although not to the same extent as police services.
Currently, the Turlock Fire Department has 42 line firefighters that staff three engines, with 10 firefighters responding for fires and three vacancies, which have been filled of late through overtime pay — which costs the City of Turlock less than filling the positions.
While the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends four firefighters per engine, Turlock Fire Department only staffs three per engine.
Compared to surrounding fire departments, Turlock has the lowest responding total, along with Ceres, despite having the same amount of engines and staffing per engine as other departments.
The main cause for the lower responding totals is Turlock Fire’s lack of staffing for a truck, an engine and staff meant to help ventilate a structure during a fire, usually by cutting or opening the roof.
The City of Turlock has a truck, which was purchased in 2001, however does not have the staff to have it fully operational.
“We’re the only department really that doesn’t have a truck in that [the area],” said Lohman.
On top of lower staffing totals, the Turlock Fire Department has seen a significant increase in call volume in recent years.
In 2014, Turlock fire responded to 6,160 total calls, nearly 1,200 more than in 2009. The call increase has been in both emergency medical services (EMS) and fire calls, although EMS makes up a majority of calls — around 66 percent.
“In the last five years, we’ve had a tremendous impact on our services,” said Lohman.
In addition to the large call volume increase, the Turlock Fire Department has recently absorbed the Neighborhood Services Department, which has added work for the department.
Despite the vacancies and staffing shortage, the Turlock Fire Department has continued to provide reliable service for the city. Turlock Fire has kept their average response time right around 5 minutes over the last few years.
To help with staffing, much like the Turlock Police Department, the Turlock Fire Department is seeking grants to get funds to lessen the blow to the general fund. The Department recently applied for a grant that would pay the salaries of three firefighters for two years.
"Tonight's workshop on fire and police services is not the end of Turlock's public safety discussion, but the beginning,” said Soiseth in a statement. “Based on tonight's workshop, the City Council will create a Strategic Plan based not only on input from our chiefs and department leadership, but also from our frontline firemen and police officers."
"This City Council is committed to placing our already strong departments on a path toward delivering even more effective services."