MODESTO -- Modesto's new police chief made his public debut at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
Galen Carroll, a commander with the Long Beach Police Department, will start Jan. 8 as chief, taking the reins of a department with 229 officers and an annual budget of $48.2 million. The city announced his appointment Friday. His salary is $175,000.
"Galen, it is with excitement that I introduce you to the City Council and the community," City Manager Greg Nyhoff said.
Carroll, 42, has more than 18 years with the Long Beach force. He was one of more than 30 applicants for the job and one of six finalists. Nyhoff said Carroll stood out because of the depth and breadth of his experience, his emphasis on forging close ties between police and the community and his ability to hold himself and those who work with him accountable.
Carroll said he was eager to start, praised the Police Department and thanked city officials for giving him the opportunity to earn their trust.
He will oversee a department hit hard by recession-driven budget cuts. The number of officers has fallen by 20 percent since 2008, from 287 then to 229 today. And crime remains a top concern.
Last year, Modesto ranked second in violent crime and first in property crime per capita among the 11 California cities with 175,000 to 250,000 residents, according to the FBI Unified Crime Reports.
Crime, traffic units suffer
The department has committed to keeping 100 officers on patrol, but that has meant fewer officers for speciality assignments such as the crime reduction team and the traffic unit.
That has left police and residents frustrated because the department does not have adequate staffing to tackle quality-of-life issues, such as speeders driving through neighborhoods and squatters living in abandoned homes.
Carroll replaces Chief Mike Harden, who retired in August. Capt. Gene Balentine has been serving as interim chief. Nyhoff thanked Balentine and other police officials Monday for their work during the transition between chiefs.
Before Carroll starts in January, he faces another challenge: finding a home.
He and his wife, Carlene, spent the weekend house hunting but to no avail. Six of the seven homes they had planned to look at had been snatched up by Saturday morning, so they went to several open houses.
"I was surprised how exhausting it was, spending the day on where you are going to call home," he said in an interview before the council meeting.
Family and football
Carlene Carroll has a sister, brother, cousins and other family who live in the Modesto area. The Carrolls spent Sunday night eating pizza with family at Mountain Mike's Pizza and watching the Green Bay Packers defeat the Detroit Lions.
Being close to family was one reason Carroll took the job. The Carrolls also plan to take advantage of what Northern California has to offer. Carlene Carroll wants to visit San Francisco, Napa Valley and Yosemite. Carroll wants to watch the Oakland Raiders.
"I'm actually an Oakland Raiders fan," he said. "I'm looking forward to going to games. Hopefully, they are better than they have been for the past 20 years."
He said he is impressed with the friendliness of Modestans. But one thing struck him as odd: complaints about traffic. "From my perspective," said Carroll, who grew up in Southern California, "the traffic is not so bad."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.
MODESTO CITY COUNCIL WATCH
The Modesto City Council on Tuesday:
Approved a one-year contract extension between the city and the Modesto Police Officers Association, which includes MPOA members getting 3 percent raises and other increases in March rather than in July in exchange for contributing 6.5 percent of their pay toward their pensions, up from the 1.5 percent they pay now. The MPOA contract now expires June 30, 2014. The MPOA represents 190 police officers and detectives.
Approved three loans totaling more than $430,000 to the Housing Authority of the County of Stanislaus for the purchase and rehabilitation of three homes. Funding would come from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
Awarded a $384,000 contract with Harris Builders of Hilmar for work at the Tuolumne River Regional Park Gateway. The total cost of the project is $496,578 and includes building a minor trail system, which will provide access to the riparian habitat near the river.
Approved several changes to the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Programs 1 and 2 as the city nears completion of them. The proposed changes include allocating $100,000 to $250,000 of NSP funding for preconstruction work for Tower Park, a senior affordable-housing project, and using more NSP funding toward the construction of the airport neighborhood community center.