Patrol needs, not politics
Police chief gives reasons for departmental reorganization
On Nov. 1, the Chico Police Department issued a press release about a suspected gang fight at the Chico Mall that left a 15-year-old boy with serious stab wounds. The news was carried front page, top of the fold in the Chico Enterprise-Record.
On Nov. 8, another police press release tallying up Halloween statistics, including $51,433 in overtime costs, also mentioned departmental reorganization that included eliminating the department’s gang unit.
The timing was curious and set off sparks of concern that have been aired in the local daily, and just this week the Chico State Orion featured this top-of-the fold headline: “Police cut gang unit after stabbing.”
This came as city departments try to adjust to ongoing budget tightening. Some saw the timing as perhaps a political maneuver to gain public support and put pressure on the City Council to kick down more money to the police.
Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle said that simply is not true, that the decision to do away with the gang, street crimes and traffic units was made in October during budget meetings and is intended to make more officers available to respond to calls.
“This is part of the challenges we’ve had with the economy and the reduction to staffing for the city as a whole,” Trostle said in recent phone interview. “The department’s gone from 81 police officers in 2008 to 71 as of now. But all departments as well as our constituency—the citizens and businesses—have all felt impacts. I’m not here to whine about it. That’s just our reality.”
He said he told the City Council and City Manager Brian Nakamura about the planned reorganization on Oct. 18, a month ahead of when it would take place.
Nakamura confirmed that communication.
“The chief and I have talked about this for a while,” Nakamura said. “Consolidating resources is not something we just came up with. This is a way to more effectively address street crimes and gangs and give back to patrol more effectively.”
The decision, he said, was also brought forth at the budget meetings and is not politically motivated.
“This is definitely not a ploy to get more money,” the city manager said. “I want to compliment the chief on this. The TARGET team will be disbanded in February because the funding from that grant runs out. We have to refocus efforts back to patrol.”
Trostle said the department currently has 49 of its 71 officers allotted to patrol, but disabilities and the accompanying light-duty assignments along with pending retirements lowers that number to 43.
He said there have been two studies on police staffing plans for what a city the size of Chico would ideally have. One had called for 101 officers by this year and the other said 108 officers by 2015. Those numbers are obviously not going to be reached.
“We’ve had staffing challenges since before my administration started,” Trostle said. “We’ve gotten to the point where we had to return officers to the patrol section so that we could adequately respond to the critical incidents in the community. There is no politics at work here. It’s very disingenuous for people to make that assumption.”
Next month the city begins labor and contract negotiations with its employees, including the police officers. Trostle says that is beyond his responsibilities as chief.
“We keep out of that because it’s labor negotiations having to do with benefits and pay, and that’s not my administrative responsibility,” he said. “I just look at staffing issues and how to run a police department.”
The chief said he would like to reassure the public about any concerns arising from recent developments.
“I want to make sure that people understand that we still have a safe community,” he said. “As we’ve added to patrol there will be additional officers responding to the different activities in the community. We are not in crisis. The community doesn’t have to feel fearful because of this reorganization. It’s just something that we have to do in our business so that we can respond in a timely manner to high-priority calls for service.”