Modesto police chief looks at ways to protect 'core' services amid budget cuts, job losses

04/18/2014 11:23 AM

04/18/2014 10:38 PM

As the Modesto Police Department prepares to absorb the loss of 20 officer positions to the budget ax, Chief Galen Carroll is beginning to pull back from interagency commitments in the county.

He is withdrawing two officers MPD has contributed to the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Taskforce, and if department staffing continues to be an issue, he said he will consider bringing back officers serving in the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency.

“We can’t continue with all of these specialized units,” Carroll said. “I am cognizant of what happens around us affects us, but I have to protect our core.”

Carroll braced for the cuts by not filling vacant positions, even before a proposed 1 percent sales tax increase that would have helped fund public safety failed in the November election.

He plans to eliminate 10 of those vacant positions. He will go overbudget initially on the remaining 10, until officers on long-term disability medically retire as anticipated and other regular retirements occur in the next few months.

The 20-position reduction would bring the number of Modesto police officer positions to 209. The Police Department had about 290 positions about six years ago but has lost officers and other staff members to budget cuts. Modesto also has cut the budgets of other departments since the Great Recession.

One of the two Modesto police officers on StanCATT left the task force at the beginning of this month, and the other will depart in June. That leaves the California Highway Patrol-led unit with three CHP officers and a Ceres officer, in addition to the CHP’s lieutenant and sergeant.

StanCATT Sgt. Alan Pittman said the task force is in discussions to add a deputy from the Sheriff’s Department and an investigator from the District Attorney’s Office to replace the two Modesto officers. He said it’s too soon to know the long-term impact of the departures. The task force will now have fewer undercover officers to do surveillance and probably will need more help from MPD patrol officers when working cases in the city, Pittman said.

Carroll acknowledges that Modesto’s unwavering spot at the top of the country’s auto theft rankings must continue to be addressed. To do that, he recently used the department’s allotted state money, intended to offset the impacts of jail realignment, to purchase eight new license plate scanners.

The scanners are mounted on patrol cars and can read up to 1,000 license plates a minute, alerting officers within seconds if they are near a stolen car or one believed to have been used in a crime.

The MPD officers pulled from StanCATT will join two property crime detectives to help with the 1,700 cases they investigate each year, Carroll said.

The next step to protect the MPD “core,” if necessary, could be to bring back the officers serving in the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency.

MPD is the largest contributor to Stanislaus DEA, providing a lieutenant as the task force’s commander, a sergeant, two officers, four support staff and a cash contribution, all of which amount to nearly $1 million annually.

Carroll knows that if Modesto ends its involvement with Stanislaus DEA, “it could spell the end of it.”

He said no decision will be made without discussions with other remaining agencies – the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Turlock and Ceres police departments, and the Stanislaus County Probation Department, Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office.

If pulled from Stanislaus DEA, the Modesto officers would be used to fill positions on patrol and other department units.

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