Tricky questions

Police community survey veers into politics

How much priority should the Chico Police Department give to putting “more officers on the street, even if that means reducing other services like traffic enforcement, gangs, street crimes, school resources and other non-patrol functions”?

That’s a question on the community survey the Police Department is asking city residents to complete. (You can find a link to it at By and large the survey is a straightforward effort to assess the need for and quality of local police services, but a couple of times, as with the question above, it veers into something resembling politics.

The question, after all, isn’t really meant to get the respondent’s opinion on how police resources should be allocated. I have no idea whether it would be better to take cops off, say, the gang unit and put them on the streets in patrol cars. Do you? My guess is probably not.

No, the question is meant to suggest that the department is struggling to make these kinds of choices because it believes it doesn’t have enough officers to police the city effectively—a belief Chief Mike Maloney has shared with the City Council during budget discussions.

The next question on the survey is even more explicitly about police staffing. It asks whether the respondent would prioritize “delivery of police services to include hiring more officers, even if other city services must be reduced.”

Let’s see, which services might be reduced? Fire protection? Wastewater treatment? Maintaining the parks? Building permits?

I’ve got no answer for that. They all seem valuable to me.

That’s also the attitude of the council, which has tried to strike a balance in making staffing cuts during the recession by calling for shared sacrifice among city departments. The only department that has actively resisted this approach and lobbied hard for more money is the Police Department.

That’s true especially of the Chico Police Officers Association, the officers’ union, which was responsible for those billboards you saw saying “Gangs are hiring. Why aren’t we?” I think it’s fair to say they went up with at least the tacit approval of department brass.

It’s interesting that on Oct. 12 Chief Maloney sent a letter to the council stating that, at the last two meetings of the Police Community Advisory Board, in May and September, residents’ main concern wasn’t gangs or violence or burglaries, but rather excessive noise. At both meetings, “the unanimous community response was exasperation at noise in their neighborhoods and CPD’s inability to help,” he writes.

Part of the problem, he adds, is that Chico’s noise ordinance requires that a warning be issued before enforcement action can be taken. He asks the council to consider altering the ordinance—presumably to eliminate the warning requirement.

He makes no mention of a lack of resources.

Happy T-Day, all! On behalf of the CN&R staff, I wish our readers a warm, joyful Thanksgiving. Despite the hard economic times, we who live in this beautiful place have much to be grateful for, do we not?

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.