The Police Department is moving 10 officers from specialty units – including those who work at Modesto’s high schools – and putting them into patrol to meet a staffing shortage.
Police Chief Galen Carroll said he is doing this because the department is losing officers to retirement and better-paying Bay Area agencies faster than it can replace them. The reassignments will take place Jan. 13. He said he believes staffing levels will increase within eight months to a year and he can return officers to the specialty units.
“We have reached critical staffing levels with patrol,” he said. “If I do nothing, I can’t protect the city. ... I did not have a choice but to reassign officers from some specialty units and put them back into patrol.”
The officers being reassigned include the four who work at Modesto City Schools’ seven high schools and its Elliott Alternative Education Center. Each officer is assigned two campuses and visits middle schools when problems arise.
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The officers deal with such problems as students suspected of committing drug offenses, bringing weapons onto campus or getting into fights. Officer Casey Graham – who is in his third year of working at Modesto High and Elliott – said he arrests a student or issues a student a citation about twice a month. This school year, he arrested a student suspected of domestic violence involving his girlfriend.
But Graham said he develops positive relationships with students and they talk to him about what is going on in their lives and the challenges they face.
Modesto City Schools officials said Carroll notified them Tuesday of his decision, giving them little time to put security plans in place when school resumes Jan. 12 after the winter break. Officials added that this is the second time in about a year that the police have given them little or no notice regarding an issue affecting campus safety.
Modesto in November 2013 rejected a $1 million federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant that would have doubled the number of police officers assigned to Modesto high schools. The city worked with the school district on the grant but ultimately decided not to accept it because it would have required the city to maintain a police staffing level it could not afford and would have limited its flexibility in how it deployed officers.
Carroll said he understands the district’s disappointment but added that he did not know until recently that staffing levels would fall this fast. He said it’s difficult to predict when officers will get injured and miss work, decide to retire or take a job with another agency.
In the short term, each high school will increase its campus supervisors from six to seven in time for students’ return after winter break. In the long term, officials said Modesto City Schools will consider forming its own district security team modeled after the one the Patterson Joint Unified School District formed at the start of this school year. District officials said security team members will have a higher level of training than campus supervisors, including training in advanced restraint techniques and proper use of handcuffs.
School district officials plan to bring the security team proposal to the Jan. 20 meeting of the Modesto City Schools board.
“We will do what is best for our students,” Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able and Public Information Officer Becky Fortuna wrote in an email. “The removal of the school resource officers, and the recent rejection of the COPS grant that we wrote with MPD, both came with little or no notice. Our students need consistency.
“Students, and their families, need to know that when they come to school, a team of professionals is there to keep them safe. With the Board of Education’s approval, we will move forward with a district security team. The new security team will incur startup costs for training and materials, so it is not likely that we will go back to the school resource officers.”
The other officers being reassigned are three from the Police Department’s Street Gang Unit (which will leave the unit with eight officers and a sergeant) and one each from the Housing Authority, Vintage Faire Mall and the Stanislaus County Office of Education. In addition, the gang unit is assigned two sergeants, but one recently retired. That position will not be filled, which will keep a sergeant in patrol.
Modesto City Schools, the Housing Authority, Vintage Faire Mall and SCOE contract with the city for the officers assigned to them and pay their salaries. The contracts can be canceled with 30 days’ notice by the city or one of the other parties.
The Police Department’s retrenching comes as it has seen the number of officers it is allocated drop by more than 20 percent in recent years because of budget cuts. The department is allocated 209 officers in the current budget year, which started July 1. That allocation includes every sworn officer in the department, from Carroll to the newest rookie.
Carroll said the department has about 180 working officers, with the rest in the police academy or undergoing field training, in which new officers are paired with experienced officers, or on workers’ compensation because they are injured. He said the department needs a minimum of 92 officers for patrol but has about 80. Carroll said he expected that number to fall to 68 by March if he did not reassign the officers.
He said the department has used overtime to fill the staffing shortfall but said he fears increasing that will lead to officers burning themselves out. He said low patrol staffing puts his officers at risk and means residents have to wait longer for the police to answer their calls for help.
The department soon will lose four officers to the Hayward Police Department, Carroll said. An additional four are considering retirement, and six are undergoing background checks as part of going to work for other agencies.
But the chief expects Modesto to start recouping its losses. He said 18 officers should complete their field training and probation in the next year. He added that there are several officers from other agencies who have applied to work in Modesto and more recruits are poised to enter the police academy.
Officials with the Housing Authority and Stanislaus County Office of Education said that while disappointed, they understand the Police Department faces staffing challenges. An official with Vintage Faire Mall did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.