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Council approves move to trim police force

POSTED February 9, 2010 11:38 p.m.

The Turlock City Council unanimously approved reducing the total number of funded police officers from 85 to 81 on Tuesday evening in an effort to cut costs in the face of a looming budget deficit.

“It’s very clear to me as a department head that every department in the city is going to be faced with budget reductions,” Police Chief Gary Hampton said. “… There’s no way in the police department to reduce costs without reducing staffing.”

Between 90 and 91 percent of the Turlock Police Department’s budget is made up of personnel costs. Hampton said the move would save the city more than $500,000 per year and would result in just one immediate pink slip due to vacant positions.

The City of Turlock has 78 police officer positions currently staffed, but just 77 positions will now be funded from the city’s general fund. The remaining four will be funded through an existing Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services grant, but that grant currently only allows for hiring new officers. As such, one current officer would be laid off.

In a second motion on Tuesday, the city council elected to modify their grant request in hopes of using the COPS funding to rehire the one police officer, but Hampton stated there was no guarantee the DOJ would approve the change. Hampton said he would lobby for the revision during a pending trip to Washington, D.C., and that if the DOJ approved the modification within 30 days the officer could, potentially, not miss a day of work.

“Candidly, if you will, I see this as my responsibility to make lemonade out of lemons and really control the destiny of what’s coming in July,” Hampton said.

Det. Brandon Bertram, representing the Turlock Associated Police Officers, said the police union had voted unanimously to support the proposal.

“We feel it’s absolutely the most responsible decision to make to sustain the services our department can provide to the community and the City of Turlock,” Bertram said.

According to Hampton, the cut will not negatively impact essential, first-line services. Gang suppression, drug suppression, crime prevention and crime intervention will also continue, but some unidentified nonessential services could see cuts.

“We are not going to go backwards,” Hampton said. “We are not going to cut services. We will, however, slow our progress.”

All members of the Council supported the reduction “begrudgingly” as a cost-saving measure. Councilmember Howze implored other departments to find similar cost reduction strategies, saving as much as 10 percent from each budget, in the face of what could be a $4 million deficit – and the toughest budget cycle in the city’s history.

“Everybody’s going to have to look at themselves,” Howze said, “because if you don’t find consensus yourselves I think during the next budget cycle the Council will do it for you.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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