Modesto may reject $1M grant for school officers

11/11/2013 6:57 PM

11/11/2013 6:58 PM

City officials will recommend that the City Council not accept a $1 million federal grant that would help pay for doubling the number of school resource officers at Modesto high schools from four to eight, saying the grant requires the Police Department to maintain staffing levels it cannot afford and limits its flexibility in where it assigns officers.

Police Chief Galen Carroll said Measure X’s failure at the polls Nov. 5 is a factor in his recommendation. Measure X was a 1 percent sales tax that would have raised about $26 million annually for six years, primarily for public safety, such as hiring police officers. Carroll said the decision came after his department conducted a deeper review of the grant.

The City Council was expected to take up the matter tonight, but Carroll said the discussion has been postponed to the council’s Dec.3 meeting so he can meet with Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able, who expressed surprise that the city may not accept the grant.

The grant would cover about a third of the cost of the eight school resource officers for three years. The grant would require Modesto to keep the officers for at least a fourth year and pay the full cost for that and any subsequent years.

The review showed that the grant is based on using entry-level officers. Carroll said seasoned officers work at schools because new officers can’t get the experience they need as campus officers. Using veteran officers adds about $270,000 to the city’s costs.

Modesto City Schools pays the city $448,000 annually for the four school resource officers assigned to the district’s seven comprehensive high schools and one continuation high school. That payment was expected to offset some of the city’s cost for the eight officers.

Able said she was disappointed to learn Modesto may reject the grant, especially after the school district’s grant writer worked with the Police Department’s grant writer on the project.

“It was never mentioned during that process that MPD may not accept the grant,” Able wrote in an email. “While I understand firsthand financial hardships for an organization, to say we are disappointed is an understatement. I look forward to having a conversation with Chief Carroll regarding the future of having school resource officers.”

Carroll said the grant locks his department into a staffing level it cannot afford and limits the department’s flexibility in how it assigns officers. The Police Department is allocated 229 officers, and that allocation would increase to 237 under the grant’s requirements. Additionally, the grant requires the eight officers to spend at least 75 percent of their time as school resource officers or in similar duties.

Carroll said he has 219 officers and 10 vacancies, which he does not expect to fill. Mayor Garrad Marsh has talked about a citywide hiring freeze in the wake of Measure X’s defeat. Marsh said last week that he does not expect the Police Department to fill vacancies as it loses officers to retirement, jobs with other agencies and for other attrition-based reasons. The department loses about a dozen officers a year to attrition.

“The city cannot afford 229 (officers), let alone 237,” Carroll said.

He said fewer officers may require pulling officers from specialty units – such as traffic, gangs and schools – and into patrol to meet the department’s top priority: answering calls for service.

“It ties your hands in where you allocate officers,” Carroll said about the grant. “Every officer is going to be valuable in the future in calls for service.”

He said there are no plans to reassign the four school resource officers but said he may have to have that conversation with school district officials if staffing levels drop enough.

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