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Mayoral, Council candidates talk public safety
Chief Hedden homeless meeting
Turlock Police Chief Jason Hedden speaks at a town hall meeting on homelessness held Sept. 22 at the Turlock Senior Center (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

Turlock’s public safety agencies — the police and fire departments and dispatch – have been struggling with a shortage of staff for the past several years. In 2020, voters approved Measure A, a citywide sales tax, with public safety one of the areas listed as the beneficiary of the new tax. Since then, the City Council has approved spending Measure A funds on police and fire equipment, training and salaries.

This year, both the fire and police departments are under recent new leadership.

In January, the City Council voted to enter into a fire services contract with the Modesto Fire Department to provide administration, management and command services.

In February, the Turlock Police Department also welcomed a new chief when the City Council approved the hiring of Jason Hedden. He took the helm from Gary Hampton, who was appointed interim police chief in August 2021. Before Hampton, Capt. Miguel Pacheco and Capt. Steven Williams both served separate terms at the helm of the department following the retirement of Chief Nino Amirfar in September 2020.

Public safety continues to be a main concern for the residents of Turlock. The Journal asked mayoral and council candidates how they would like to see the City of Turlock improve its public safety efforts. Here are their answers:

Mayoral candidate Gil Esquer: We need to do everything we can to make Turlock’s public safety departments the most desirable department to work for in the Central Valley. Recruitment and retention must guide every decision this council makes for our personnel. Part of that is making sure your tax dollars are spent on what the voters were promised it would be spent on — more boots on the ground. 

We need to work with the county to double down on engagement with the unhoused population. Those that have severe mental health and substance abuse issues need a dedicated public safety unit.

As mayor I will call for a total evaluation of our public safety efforts and explore all crime-prevention options such as increasing all types of street-lighting, youth engagement programs, crime tracking technology, incentivizing all businesses to increase surveillance—you name it. I’ll lead the council to evaluate, and we will invest in methods that are successful.

 If elected, I will revisit the current council’s decision to pay the City of Modesto to manage our Fire Department. Local control is crucial to ensuring our community is adequately protected by disaster. I believe a regional approach to fire services is possibly beneficial but only if it is recommended through expert-analysis, employee buy-in, and the community’s input that is beneficial for our city, its employees, and its residents. 

Mayoral candidate Amy Bublak: First-rate police and fire protection is a top priority in Turlock. As a former police officer, it’s clear that an unsafe community poisons the quality of life we all desire.  

During the City budget challenges, many positions in our Police and Fire Departments went unfilled. 

Recently, we have been able to begin refilling our ranks with the needed police officers and fire fighters. This is largely due to voters trusting us with more of their hard-earned dollars by approving Measure A, our local sales tax increase. It’s no secret that I didn’t support this new tax because I believed City Hall needed to do more to earn the trust of voters and taxpayers, but the reality is these new taxes are allowing us to increase funding for “boots on the ground” whether they be law enforcers or fire fighters.

These new positions are allowing us to better handle the most important issues that our residents care about from fighting crime to lessening homelessness and its impacts on our community. Keeping our homes, businesses, neighborhoods, parks, schools, workplaces and every square inch of Turlock safe is what we strive for every day.

With the support of Turlock Firefighters Local #2434, we have contracted with the City of Modesto, under the direction of Modesto Fire Chief Alan Ernst, to manage Fire Administrative Services to increase efficiencies and lower costs in administration and maintenance. Chief Ernst has appointed well respected and highly experienced Chris Jelinek to serve as our Fire Chief.

Under their superlative leadership, we are returning the Department to full staffing with forty-five fire fighters, along with a full complement of command staff. During the City’s budget challenges, we fell behind in maintaining and replacing firefighting apparatus. We have implemented a replacement and repair schedule that will ensure our fire fighters have what they need to keep us safe from fires and disasters. Two new fire engines are being built for the City now that will begin this equipment care cycle. 

We are increasing service to Turlock through innovative strategies. Through resource sharing with adjoining departments, we are bringing additional engines, ladder trucks and Chief officers to support our firefighters on emergency incidents. Specialized equipment that Turlock could not afford on its own are now readily available to us. 

Like our Fire Department, we have stabilized the Turlock Police Department thanks to the generosity of our residents through the passage of Measure A.

In February, after a national search, Turlock resident Jason Hedden was appointed as our Police Chief. He had been in the command structure and the Acting Chief of the Los Banos Police Department while living in Turlock. His love and concern for our City has been evident from the day he took command. 

Chief Hedden is rebuilding the command staff, recruiting new officers, dispatchers, and the essential support staff necessary to bring the department back to full staffing levels. Most recently, our Police Department received funding to add twelve new positions. 

We are pleased to have instituted a body camera program for all officers to allow transparency with the public-on-public interactions. 

We’ve approved supplying many squad cars and city vehicles with Automated External Defibrillators (AEDS) to provide quicker response times to heart attacks. Time is of the essence when a person’s heart stops and having AED’s in police cars and other City vehicles will save lives. 

As part of an overall strategy to reduce homelessness in Turlock we first declared it an emergency to address unsheltered conditions and subsequently have added four sworn new Neighborhood Resource officers along four new Code Enforcement staff members to implement local City ordinances designed to protect the health and safety of community residents and homeless individuals.


We have also developed a partnership with the County CARE team providing CARE staff with office space as they collect data and attempt to connect those in homeless community willing to accept assistance in for substance abuse, mental health counseling and in locating housing.

Another change we have made is moving code enforcement from the Fire Department to the Police Department to allow for more accountability and better coordination between Neighborhood Resource Officers and Code Enforcement. This change aims to help better address enforcement of code violations including illegal fireworks, blight, and other quality of life issues.  

By fully staffing both our Fire and Police Departments, and providing them with needed equipment and supplies, both departments will be more successful in keeping our residents safe.


District 1 candidate Kevin Bixel: As a previous paramedic in Turlock, I understand the importance of the job that our public safety personnel take on every day. Today, as someone who works in a hospital trauma center, I am reminded everyday what is at stake if our first responders are not adequately staffed, equipped, or trained.  As your councilmember and at a minimum, I will ensure that we are adequately staffed in our public safety departments to match the needs of our growing population. I plan on evaluating our ambulance services contracts to ensure we are doing everything in our power to shorten emergency response times as much as possible. I believe that public safety is the core of all the services your city promises to provide to you and should be at the forefront of all city leaders' minds when we evaluate every issue.


District 1 candidate Chris Nichols did not submit a response to this week’s question.


District 3 candidate Kelly Higgins: I fully support our law enforcement and fire departments and am grateful both are well funded right now thanks in large part to taxpayers in Turlock who voted for Measure A. The funding will enable Police Chief Hedden and Fire Chief Jelinek to keep Turlock as safe as can be.

I attended the City Council meeting where the council was presented with the opportunity to vote for equipping police vehicles with defibrillators. This was affirmed unanimously. The council was able to vote for this extremely important medical device without hesitation because they have the means to pay for this life saving equipment. This is just one example of why it is so important to have a fully funded budget for our emergency services. With ever expanding needs arising, it should be a relief to the entire city that these public safety departments are each able to update equipment, hire additional staff, and maintain current resources - all necessary progress.

Continual improvements of these departments are paramount to their ability to perform the “tasks” required of them. Support for these Departments promotes safety for them, for us and for the community in its entirety. Their goals are to protect us and my goal will be to support them whenever presented with plausible ideas required to improve performances.

If pressured to come up with one thing I would do to “improve” these departments, it would be more involvement from the community. Programs like Volunteers in Patrol, would be a great way for citizens to help out. My Mom participated in one of the first VIPS teams with the Turlock Police Department. I remember the exciting stories she shared and how proud I was at the great job she and her fellow VIPS were doing. They were valuable assets to both the Police Department and the city they patrolled.

I have full faith and confidence in the Police and Fire Departments in Turlock. I believe they handle each person they encounter with dignity and respect. It is my honor to be endorsed by the Turlock Associated Police Officers and I will strive to keep their trust in me as their preferred candidate for Turlock City Council, District 3.


District 3 candidate Cassandra Abram: The City of Turlock needs to view issues of public safety from all angles. Firstly, we need decisive action to support our first responders. We need to be more proactive in our hiring and retention efforts for our police department and 911 dispatchers. We need to honor the will of voters by upholding the promises of Measure A to maintain our local fire services – not giving local control of our departments to another jurisdiction. 

Secondly, we need to start prioritizing public safety in all infrastructure projects. As we repair our roadways, we must make sure the roads are safe and accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as vehicles. We should create programs to help property owners fix the unsafe sidewalks that are damaged from trees planted by the city. 

Finally, as your City leader, I will ensure my colleagues on the council understand that public safety also means having safe spaces for our community to flourish. Local community centers give seniors, children, and families safe places to recreate. Turlock has the opportunity to create such a space quickly and without spending millions of dollars at the currently vacant, city-owned Armory building. It must be a priority of city leadership to invest in youth programs in order to keep children safe and prevent crime through community engagement. 

True public safety for our city is not only having enough police officers, dispatchers, and firefighters to respond to our city’s needs – that’s a good start – but we must also measure our community’s level of public safety by our city’s commitment to public spaces that are safe, protected, and accessible for all residents. As your Councilmember, I will be an advocate for prioritizing the public’s safety in every vote I take. 


District 3 candidate Ryan Taylor: I am a strong supporter of Turlock’s police and fire department. Both departments right now have open positions and I would like to see them being filled and be given proper support from the city council. One of the top priorities should be ensuring safety throughout the city. Without safety, nothing else can happen. If people don’t feel safe living here or operating their businesses the city will start falling apart, so the number one priority should be ensuring that the services are well-funded and well-staffed.


District 3 candidate Ramin Odisho: I have pledged to make public safety a top priority and work with law enforcement to protect our safety. Public safety is a top priority for public service. As an elected official, I will uphold the laws and work with California Law Enforcement on issues of mutual concern.

At its core, the law enforcement and public safety field is all about protecting others. The number-one priority of public safety officers is to safeguard their communities and the individuals living within them.

The word public safety means “protecting the public and keeping them safe”. Business Dictionary (2022). Public safety also involves protecting and securing the area/areas around the public, whether it’s in public or private businesses, buildings, special events, on the streets, in clubs, schools and institutions etc. Working in public safety gives the public a sense of feeling a little worry free. Having the responsibility to be part of protecting the public in private businesses, organizations, institutions etc. in public safety can be a rewarding experience and a professional career. In order to become effective in any profession, there must be some keep of training and skills obtained through education. Enrolling in an undergraduates program in public safety allow students opportunities to study principles and gain knowledge, starting with the history, purpose and different areas in the public safety field within the city of Turlock and it’s surrounded cities.

District 3 candidate Ryan Taylor: I am a strong supporter of Turlock’s police and fire department. Both departments right now have open positions and I would like to see them being filled and be given proper support from the city council. One of the top priorities should be ensuring safety throughout the city. Without safety, nothing else can happen. If people don’t feel safe living here or operating their businesses the city will start falling apart, so the number one priority should be ensuring that the services are well-funded and well-staffed.