During his tenure as a Modesto City Councilman, Bruce Frohman was a strong supporter of law enforcement. Recent tragic deaths and shootings have focused attention on ongoing cuts to law enforcement services. Here, Frohman continues the dialog about the need for additional officers and staff.
The entire community of Stanislaus County was shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic shooting of Sheriff Deputy Robert Paris in the line of duty. During the announcement of the death of Deputy Paris, Sheriff Adam Christianson reiterated previous assertions made at annual County budget hearings that his department has insufficient resources to protect the public. The Sheriff has an ongoing disagreement with the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors over the appropriate funding level for his department. Since the first time his budget was cut, he has repeatedly expressed frustration.
WHAT RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE FOR PUBLIC SAFETY?
The Sheriff’s lament about his lack of resources contrasted sharply with television coverage of the effort to capture the gunman who shot Deputy Paris. Shown in the coverage were four different SWAT teams, Modesto Police, Turlock Police, Merced Sheriff, California Highway Patrol, FBI, and Stanislaus County Sheriff patrol cars. Prescott Road was filled with marked and unmarked police vehicles as an army of peace officers converged on the scene. Although television showed what appeared to be a large number of peace officers, what is the total number of officers on duty at any moment in time compared to an estimated 10,000 current and former gang members believed residing within Stanislaus County?
THE BUDGET DILEMMA
Due to the economic depression that hit Stanislaus County in 2007, property values have declined an average of over 50% and the unemployment rate has risen to an official rate of over 17%, with the real rate probably around 30%. The corresponding decline in tax revenue has forced draconian cuts to all County departments.
A consensus has never been reached on what local resources are needed to adequately protect the public. For example, about 66 percent of the City of Modesto’s budget is spent on public safety. Yet, complaints about inadequate resources and services perpetually surface in each budget cycle. Police have come to rely more and more on mutual aid from outside departments.
The bottom line in settling the public safety budget issue ultimately resides with the taxpayers. If the taxpayers are willing to pay more, they will receive more protection. Assuming optimal efficiency by the various departments, law enforcement can only provide service based on the available resources.
ARE TAXPAYERS WILLING TO PAY MORE FOR PUBLIC SAFETY?
In setting the budget for the Sheriff’s Department, the County Board of Supervisors decides for taxpayers what the county wide service level will be. The Board could put a tax measure on the ballot to raise more revenue for the Sheriff’s Department. However, current anti-tax sentiment may be seen as a barrier for making such an attempt. Raising taxes during an economic depression is also a barrier and generally considered unwise public policy.
In the City of Modesto, cuts comparable to the county have been made to the police department. Modesto City Council members have been encouraging neighborhoods to hire private security firms rather than rely entirely on declining city service. Hiring a private security firm is comparable to raising taxes for public safety as the public still has to pay out more money for protection. Therefore, why not consider a temporary property parcel tax or sales tax until revenues are restored in an economic recovery?
SHOULD EVERYONE HAVE A GUN TO DETER CRIME?
In recent years, advocates of the gun lobby have urged citizens to arm themselves so that people can take the law into their own hands. Since the police can’t be everywhere at once, gun ownership advocates argue that an armed citizenry is a deterrent to crime. Evil doers will stop committing crimes out of fear of being shot. Advocates have not explained how armed citizens will stop drug distribution, car theft, prostitution or burglary of unoccupied homes and businesses.
HOMES BECOME WEAPONS ARSENALS
The gunman who shot and killed Sheriff Deputy Robert Paris had numerous firearms and a large stash of ammunition. Although he was being evicted, he had money to purchase thousands of dollars in armaments. Feeling unsafe and insecure, a number of citizens have turned their homes into fortresses. Such fortresses are subject to burglary, providing more weapons and ammunition for those who would commit crimes. As more weaponry circulates in the community, unarmed citizens are subject to greater risk.
One hopes that some good will come from the tragic death of Deputy Robert Paris. Sheriff Adam Christianson reopened the dialog. Will the discussion lead to a productive resolution or end without change for the better?