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Stress high, morale low say Turlock police officers
Public safety needs brought before City Council
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Turlock police officers made a plea for higher salaries to the Turlock City Council Tuesday night, as the City continues its budget talks. A veteran police officer talked about the high stress and low morale in the department and a member of the police officers’ union asked the Council to support the City’s law enforcement with as much “blind loyalty” as it has the firefighters.

The Turlock Police Department has been dealing with critical staffing issues for some time. In February, the City Council approved lateral new hire salary bonuses after hearing from Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar and what he described as an impending “calamity” for the city if the department cannot successfully recruit and retain police officers.

The Police department is allocated to staff 78 sworn positions, but currently only has 73 positions filled, which includes the chief and two captains. The department has been embarking on an ambitious recruiting program, but as new officers are coming in, others are leaving, so the department has made no real gains over the last two years.

On Tuesday, Corporal Ian Rodriguez shared with the Council what he’s experienced over his 13-year career with the Turlock Police Department.

He said he remembers well being sworn in 2005 with four other officers, of whom only two remain, including himself. Rodriguez recalled not feeling comfortable alone in the field until about the five-year mark.

“You see it takes an officer approximately five years before they become proficient at the job. When I speak of proficiency, it’s important you realize that being proficient and competent at your job is the difference between a case being closed out versus it being closed out with an arrest and a conviction in the court room. It’s the difference between doing the job correctly and a citizen commending you for it versus it being done incorrectly and the City incurring liability,” Rodriguez said.

He talked about the Turlock Police Department becoming a training grounds in recent years, with new recruits taking advantage of the city’s training program and then moving on to other agencies that pay more.

“We are in a day and age where good police officers are being heavily recruited by other cities and the candidate pool is shrinking….it is ever important for cities to recruit and retain their officers,” said Rodriguez.

He said many Turlock officers he knows have moved on to better paying positions in other cities. Rodriguez said he could not afford to purchase a home until 2013, and then he couldn’t afford the prices of Turlock homes and had to move out of the city in which he serves.

“What better way for officers to have a stake in a community than if they were to be able to afford to buy a home in the city that they serve and be actual stakeholders themselves?

“The workload increases, but not the wages.”

“The stress high, morale low.”

He said that while he appreciates the money the City of Turlock has invested over the years in his training, he has dusted off his resume and is exploring other options as have many of his colleagues.

After he spoke, over 20 members of the Turlock Associated Police Officers in the audience rose and gave him a standing ovation.

Detective Tim Redd, vice president of TAPO, addressed the Council after Rodriguez. He asked the Council to “do the right thing.”

“If this Council can blindly throw out half a million dollars because somebody comes up and says we’re fatigued and we have a recruitment/retention problem and we’ve lost one employee in a two-year period, take a look at what we’ve lost in seven months,” said Redd.

“I know at the last Council meeting there was some speaking from Council member Bublak about, wait before we commit this money, where are we going to get it? But it still passed. I would expect that same blind loyalty for the public safety officers who are here that have been dragging their tails; that when they’ve been working overtime shifts, they’re going from call to call to call to call not sitting for periods of time waiting for a call to come in,” he continued.

Redd was referencing action the City Council took at its March 27 meeting to hire three additional firefighters in an effort to alleviate the department’s staffing problem, which has resulted in firefighter fatigue, according to Acting Fire Chief Gary Carlson.

The Council approved spending $72,214 in fiscal year 2017-18 and then an additional $329,688 in 2018-19 to pay for the additional firefighters.

Funding for public safety staffing is a challenge the City Council will soon have to face. During a special budget workshop meeting held Tuesday, the Council was presented with $420,258 in requests for the current fiscal year and $2.6 million in requests for 2018-19. The main request for all departments was increased staffing.

According to Administrative Services Director Kellie Jacobs-Hunter if the Council approved all the requests, the City would be running at a $1.4 million deficit for 2017-18 and a $2.9 million deficit for 2018-19.

Following the approval of the additional firefighter hires on March 27, the City has a projected deficit of $613,543 to end the 2017-18 fiscal year on June 30.

“It just scares the hell out of me,” said Council member Gil Esquer about the projected budget deficits. “I come from a place where I don’t like to spend money I don’t have. I’m looking at a $2 million-plus deficit if we go with all this. I see a lot of items on here that are necessary…all this makes me real nervous. I want to look for more alternatives.”

A special meeting or community forums were discussed to consider possible funding sources like increasing the Transient Occupancy Tax (hotel tax) — or a public safety tax, as Council member Amy Bublak has proposed in the past.

The Council is expected to consider 2017-18 budget augmentation requests at its April 24 regular meeting.