A public-safety pitch

Patrols by Chico’s Fire Department could help keep the city safer

The author is a longtime Chico resident and former city councilman.

While efforts to clean up our downtown of transients appear successful, many of the problems just moved into our neighborhoods and parks. One incident I read about involved a woman and her grandchildren who were heading into Children’s Playground, where, to her horror, she saw a homeless man defecating under a tree just yards from where dozens of youngsters were playing. She correctly surmised, “We have not yet found a solution.”

But there are solutions.

Imagine you’re visiting your favorite park when three uniformed Chico firefighters greet you as they pass by on their way to speak with a few transients who are hanging out there. With the training they already have, firefighters should be capable of identifying those who genuinely need help, and guiding them to facilities where they can get it. And for the troublemakers, just knowing someone is watching would be very effective—within a few visits, they will probably take the hint, pack their belongings and leave.

Is this possible? Do our firefighters have the time to join our community-wide efforts to find additional safety solutions? Yes, firefighters stay busy when not responding to calls. They have equipment to maintain and training to complete. But with a little creative planning, each crew, I believe, can fulfill these duties and still add neighborhood patrols to every shift.

Want an example? Firefighting crews respond to medical calls every day, meaning they’re already out in the community. Adding patrols could be as simple as taking an extra 15 minutes on their way back to their station to patrol known neighborhood trouble spots.

Firefighters have valid concerns about dealing with illegal activities or belligerent transients. We’re not asking them to. They should do what they would normally do: call for a police response. Personally, I’d rather have three firefighters happen upon these troublemakers than an unsuspecting family.

Are there other details to work through? Possibly, but the basic concept makes so much sense. Remember, at any given time, we normally have 17 firefighters on duty. At the same time, only six police officers are on patrol. Yet, making Chico’s families feel safer in our parks and neighborhoods is still within our reach. Our firefighters’ willingness to add these patrols could be one key to making that happen.

In my view, it makes perfect sense that, in this time of tight budgets, we explore every opportunity to use the public-safety employees we already have on duty to help safeguard our parks, neighborhoods and citizens.