Former Modesto City Councilman Bruce Frohman has an insider’s view of problems with City budgets and police staffing. Here, he offers an up-to-the-minute look at current problems with staffing in the Modesto Police Department.
News Item: California Highway Patrol to Help Stockton Police Department Maintain Order
The recent decision of the California Highway Patrol to help the Stockton Police Department sparked this writer’s interest in examining Modesto Police Department operations to see if the community should submit a similar request. In the last few years, budget cuts have reduced the number of patrol officers to levels not seen since the 1990’s.
On Monday, October 29th, 2012, Interim Modesto Police Chief Gene Balentine told a meeting of the Woodland West Neighborhood Association that patrols have as few as 22 officers on duty city wide during the day and as few as 12 on duty during the wee hours of the morning.
The Chief also told the crowd that a new permanent police chief is expected to be appointed in December or January. Former Chief Mike Hardin recently retired and did not want to keep working until his replacement is hired, so the Interim Chief was appointed.
At the same meeting, a citizen told the crowd that his home had been burglarized that very afternoon. He said he called the police department to report the burglary and was told that no one was available to take the call, to call back an hour later. When the citizen called an hour later, no one answered the phone as the office was “closed.” Chief Balentine said that the explanation was that his department had been put on Yellow Alert.
Yellow Alert is a condition where every available patrol officer is handling a top priority call where life or property is in immediate danger. The police department handles calls by priority. A burgled home is a low priority call because the burglar is gone and there is no action an officer can take that will immediately apprehend a criminal.
Yellow Alerts were very common in the 1990’s, when the Modesto City Council subsidized new residential development and did not have adequate funds to hire sufficient staff for the police department. With declining tax revenues in recent years, the Modesto City Council has had to reduce the number of officers on city wide patrol. With the reduction in staff, the police department has Yellow Alerts again. The staff shortage problem has been compounded by the fact that a number of officers are presently off work due to on-the job injuries. The fact that the Yellow Alert happened on a Monday should be of grave concern to citizens because Monday is not typically the most active day for the police.
Spike in Crime
The other bad news is that in the past year, the crime rate has spiked 23%. Chief Balentine said that he believes the spike is the result of prison realignment, where state prisoners have been shipped to county jails and local prisoners have been released early. He said that there may be prisoners who probably should not have been released, but not many. He also said there has not been any parolee dumping into Modesto and that the trend towards more crime is a statewide phenomenon.
Prior to the realignment, California crime followed the nationwide trend towards less crime until this past year. He expressed concern that the alignment will cause California’s crime rate to diverge from the rest of the nation. The Acting Chief promised an aggressive attack on crime. Strike units have been created targeting burglary prevention and apprehension of criminals.
Call in the California Highway Patrol?
When asked whether Modesto will ask for the California Highway Patrol to help maintain public safety, as in Stockton, Chief Ballentine stated that the crime problem is much worse in Stockton and that no help would be requested. He also stated that the Modesto City Council has authorized his department to fill some vacancies. However, the Acting Chief has not yet been able to find any fully trained officers to hire. The hope is that other communities will have layoffs that he can soak up.
If the Yellow Alerts continue and service degrades any further, a request to the California Highway Patrol for help may be our only resort. Stanislaus County Sheriff Christianson has been saying that he has no staff to spare, so unless the Modesto Police Department can hire more officers, the Highway Patrol is the only other option for citizen safety.