A rash of departures and injuries has left the Turlock Police Department at its lowest level of sworn personnel in several years.
The department is allocated for 74 sworn personnel, but is currently operating with 68, said Police Chief Rob Jackson. The department hasn’t been below 68 sworn personnel since 2006 when it was at 64, according to city-data.com.
During the economic recession the department eliminated three sworn personnel positions when those positions were vacated. When the Community Oriented Policing Services grant ended last year the department had to eliminate four positions, which resulted in the end of a dedicated team assigned to the Criminal Apprehension and Gang Enforcement unit. The City Council did allocate $200,000 in overtime spending to compensate officers signing up for CAGE shifts on their days off.
Additionally, six other positions have become vacant recently. The majority of those have been from officers leaving to work for other agencies, which Turlock Associated Police Officers believes is a direct consequence of Turlock’s pay rate for sworn personnel.
“We were the agency that everyone wanted to come and work for, but that is not the case now,” said TAPO President Sgt. Russell Holeman.
Holeman said Turlock’s pay scale has fallen below other agencies in comparably sized cities, which makes it difficult to attract new hires and transfers.
The City of Turlock, with a population around 70,000 lists the monthly salary for an officer between $3,916 and $5,510 a month. In Manteca, which has a population around 71,000, the pay range is $5,713 to $6,940 and in Merced, with a population of about 80,000, the pay rate is between $4,512 and $5,485.
“If they want to go over the hill they can make even more money,” Holeman said.
The department is operating at minimum staffing levels for patrol, which can result in officers having little to no time for proactive policing. The department recently decided to send two detectives and one sergeant back to patrol temporarily to help with the staffing levels until some personnel return from medical leaves.
“Answering calls for service is our number one priority. As such we must always focus our attention first on our patrol staff,” Jackson said.
An issue that is keeping the department from filling the vacancies is that it is becoming more difficult to find and attract qualified applicants.
“Not having a local academy has had an effect on the talent pool,” Jackson said. “We have top quality employees and we are not going to lower our standards.”
Turlock isn’t the only agency having a hard time finding qualified applicants. A recent survey from the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training found that law enforcement agencies are experiencing high applicant failure rates, with some as high as 90 to 95 percent. The primary reasons cited are for weak academic performance, poor fitness levels, and deficits in character and behavior.
Jackson is hoping the answer to Turlock’s staffing levels will come from the city’s residents. The department is hoping to find the right interested parties and sponsor them through the police academy. It takes on average six months to complete academy training and then another six months of on the job training.
“I’m excited about this because I believe Turlock has a deep pool of people who are connected to the community and have a desire to serve it,” Jackson said.
TAPO is equally supportive of the sponsorship plan, but hopes it is in connection with more immediate action.
“We support that plan as a long-term solution, but the city needs to do something now to attract more qualified applicants, like lateral transfers from other agencies,” Holeman said. “We need bodies now.”