Ideally, the police and fire chiefs said, the city would have four firefighters on each engine, targeted efforts on gangs and auto theft, and a couple of K-9 officers.
The Turlock City Council heard about these and other public safety needs at a Tuesday night workshop, one in a series on city operations.
Police Chief Rob Jackson said sworn officer positions peaked at 86 in 2009, just before budget cuts caused by the economic downturn, and now stand at 78. He proposes to get back to 86 as the budget allows in the coming years.
The cuts forced Turlock to pull out of a Central Valley task force on gangs and a Stanislaus County task force on auto theft, Jackson said. The department also suspended its Street Crimes Unit, which deals with repeat offenders, but will revive it soon, thanks to increased staffing.
Jackson said two changes to state law have some wrongdoers thinking they will not be held accountable: One is a partial shift of oversight from state prisons and parole to local police and probation officers. The other is a November ballot measure that reduced some theft and drug crimes to misdemeanors.
“The dynamics in criminal justice are changing in California,” Jackson said. “It started with the prison system. They’re pushing their inmates out into the counties.”
The department also aims to boost non-sworn staffing, including dispatch, records and animal services. And the chief, who used to be a K-9 officer, said he would like to revive Turlock’s program with a pair of dogs.
“You can search buildings quicker and safer,” he said, adding that the dogs are “an excellent PR tool.”
Fire Chief Tim Lohman said calls to his department rose from 4,943 in 2010 to 6,160 in 2014. About two-thirds were medical emergencies.
Turlock has three firefighters on each engine, short of the four recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.
Lohman also noted the increased hazards from homes built in recent years, with more open floor plans and synthetic materials in the building materials and furnishings. A fire in a newer home can reach 1,000 degrees in five to eight minutes, compared with 15 to 20 minutes in a home with more interior walls, wood and natural fabric, he said.
“What you’re seeing is a shorter time to flashover,” Lohman said, referring to big burst of flames in a structure.
Despite the challenges, he said, Turlock rates high for fire protection on a scale that helps set home insurance premiums. It stands at 2, one notch down from the top, thanks to a strong department, reliable water and other factors.
“To me, that sends a message that we’re doing a pretty good job,” Lohman said.
Mayor Gary Soiseth scheduled the workshops to fulfill a campaign pledge to review city services in the first few months of his term.
“(Tuesday’s) workshop on fire and police services is not the end of Turlock’s public safety discussion, but the beginning,” he said by email Wednesday. He added that the council “will create a strategic plan based not only on input from our chiefs and department leadership, but also from our front-line firemen and police officers.”
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
NEXT UP: LEISURE TIME
What: The series of workshops on Turlock needs will continue with a session on parks, recreation and the arts.
When: 6 p.m. March 17
Where: City Hall, 156 S. Broadway
Note: The workshops are in addition to the council’s regular meetings on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.