Two people were gunned down and five wounded in Stockton over the weekend. As the smoke cleared, the city’s main police union posted a statement.
The killings, the statement said, were only two of 1,000+ calls to police over 24 hours.
“These mass shootings absorbed nearly all of our resources, leaving other emergencies to hold for hours,” said the union, the Stockton Police Officers’ Association.
Calls exceeded cops because, “Our staffing levels unfortunately continue to decline as policing nationally struggles to recruit and retain officers. … We are short 120 Police Officers …”
If the number 120 rings a bell, that is because Stockton voters in 2013 approved Measure A, a ¾-cent sales tax hike that promised to beef up the force of 365 cops by 120 hires to 485.
Having dealt with this issue in 2022, I might not revisit it but for something the police union added.
“Our department is still losing officers to neighboring agencies — fortunately, at a much slower rate than over the summer, but still at a rate greater than our recruitment pace.”
Well, there you go. Late last year the police force stood at 376 officers. Since then, they won an 18% raise and various benefits — yet their number has gone down.
Stockton residents pay the tax but have none of the 120 cops to show for it, according to the SPOA.
Well, that’s not exactly true. As of Tuesday, the force stood at 367 — yes, it added two of the promised 120 cops. Two new cops. Rest easy, Stockton.
“It’s horrible,” said Ned Leiba, a fiscal watchdog and CPA.
To Leiba, it’s a money issue. When budgeted police positions stand vacant the city uses the money for other things — such as reserves, or cost overruns on the new City Hall.
They can do so because the tax is a general tax and not a restricted tax. A distinction Stockton voters would do well to remember.
So why, even after a juicy raise, additional bennies—paired with a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), another raise—can’t this city staff up its police?
Part of the reason remains money. Police wanted a 34% raise. They can get it elsewhere.
It’s not all about money, though. Quality of life counts, as does the popularity of the chief, the support, or lack of it, of the citizenry, and the efficacy of recruitment.
“If you can make the same amount of money at Redwood City and handle the same case load, you’re going to go that direction,” said Det. Patrick High, SPOA president.
And if you can make more money in a city with less crime … the city of Elk Grove pirates Stockton cops. The Elk Grove Police Department has 143 of 153 positions filled — a healthy 93% as compared to Stockton’s 76%.
“Apples and oranges,” said City Manager Harry Black. “Elk Grove, much, much, smaller jurisdiction. Much more suburban than urban, and almost no crime. So it’s an easy job.”
Newish Police Chief Stanley McFadden reportedly has boosted employee morale. McFadden meets one-on-one with sworn officers and listens.
“A lot of the changes being made internally are coming from the chief’s conversations with the employees,” said Officer Joseph Silva, police spokesman.
On the other hand, many Stocktonians don’t support their local police; they distrust them.
“Officers go into every community in this city regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status,” said Sgt. High. “If it’s not interpreted in the way it’s meant to be or they are at the disadvantage so that it (the problem) can’t be solved, you don’t get the satisfaction of making that difference.”
California’s liberal laws alienate many cops and potential cops. Like Proposition 47, a 2014 referendum that reduced many felony crimes to misdemeanors.
Or bail reform. “People who used to sit in custody until their court appearance are getting back on the street before officers get off their shift,” High said.
And the whole George Floyd, defund-the-police shift in society has thinned police ranks.
On the upside, McFadden is revamping the recruitment unit. Recruiters now visit local events, colleges and military bases. Time will tell if their efforts succeed.
In fairness, Measure A money over the years has funded the hire of numerous cops, occasionally almost as many as promised. It has funded the Office of Violence Prevention, which intervenes with gangsters who do most of the shootings.
The city also legitimately uses some Measure A money for other needs.
There may be valid reasons why police to fill Stockton’s ranks are hard to come by. Still, the staff decline needs to be reversed in the coming months.
Even if it is, though, I will never, ever support another general tax. General tax dollars are like wild bison: impossible to corral and prone to wander off.
Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: email@example.com.
Sadly, I can’t say I feel safe with or without cops. I have been pulled over, questioned and even frisked despite never having broken a law too many times and that has left me with a bit of a sour taste for the city’s police department. You can call them trust issues.
That one time for driving with my hand out of my car by UOP apparently, they saw my litter. The time I took the trash out in an upscale Brookside office building where I was told I looked “suspicions”, sorry I’m just the janitor officer. That time I was barked at for not speaking English as interpreted for my mother while she got a citation for a busted light, so sorry officer with a Hispanic surname. Or the time I just simply cycled through town, and I was stopped and asked if I was a mule, yeah sure like I had a place to hide it while wearing a lycra cycling kit and a helmet. I mean I could literally go on, maybe I have a lucky statistical disposition for being stopped for having done nothing.
Sure, that was all some time ago, and the city has changed, maybe this new chief will shake things up. I hope he does. In fairness I am sure that the current officers are honest people, and I am sure are overworked as they do everything they can for the community. Kudos to them and thank you for fighting an uphill battle.
Recruitment will continue to be a trust issue, I once wanted to be a cop, but honestly enough experiences with “bad apples” killed the vibe for me. My only positive experience with a cop continues to be when I returned to the station some stole documents I found on my car, after I went to the impound lot to rummage through what was left of my car after it had been stolen and totally stripped. If SPD doesn’t regain the trust of the community, I don’t see the situation improving. I moved to Stockton in 2004 and in my experience, this city has always been and will continue to be a, watch where you go and never be alone type of place. With or without enough cops.
Mr. Fitzgerald, good article.
You said: “. . . I will never, ever support another general tax. General tax dollars are like wild bison: impossible to corral and prone to wander off.”
Yes, but recall Measure W is a special fund tax not a general fund tax. We were promised 45 new officers. Today we have 24. After all these years, every tax dollar has been paid and collected. But only 53% of what was promised by the city administration, City Council and supporters of Measure W was delivered.
With Stockton, perhaps the problem is not the nature of the tax.
The flip side of the coin: the police budget is the lion’s share of the city’s annual budget. It costs thousands of dollars just to make a single arrest. It costs more to house someone awaiting trial than to let them out on bail. Not to mention they are locked up for something they have not yet been convicted of. Then there’s the bureaucracy. A hit & run that busted the side mirror on my car generated a seven page police report that took ten days for final approval & release. Seems a bit excessive to me.
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