SELMA – In an effort to increase the number of police officers patrolling Selma’s streets, city staff say there’s $20,000 available to hire entry-level officers for the short term. City leaders are still trying to figure out how to afford hiring more full-time officers for the long term, however.
Some Council members say they’d rather tap into reserves to hire more officers now while others say hiring without the finances to keep them will only lead to layoffs and earn the department a bad reputation.
At the Oct. 16 meeting, City Manager Dave Elias said the city is actively recruiting to fill two current vacancies in the police department and that there are three applicants in the background phase of the hiring process.
Finance Department Manager Isaac Moreno has also found $20,000 in the budget to hire Level 1 reserves.
“[They] can serve in the capacity as sworn patrol officers as we get into the budget starting in February,” Elias said.
Police Chief Greg Garner said since there’s been such high turnover, what Level 1 officers they’ve had in the past already have been hired as regular officers so recruitment efforts will continue to fill the reserve pool.
“We’d like to build up a large contingent of reserves but we’re competing with a lot of different draws. All of them want to be full-time officers either with us or another agency, whoever gets them first.”
Councilwoman Yvette Montijo suggested the idea of sponsoring cadets through the police academy or forgiving loans they’ve incurred to become officers in exchange for years of service, similar to the education field.
Garner said that while the premise is worthwhile, legally the city couldn’t make such loans. Pursuing such arrangements would prove costly anyway, he said.
“I send recruiters [to the police academies] all the time. We don’t have as much to offer like Fresno [Police Department] that offers a $10,000 signing bonus.”
And while some cadets already know they’d rather work for a smaller agency, Garner said getting their attention is one thing in the job market, “but keeping them, that’s another story.”
Garner said their department has applied for federal funding that would pay 75 percent of the cost to hire three more officers. He stressed that if they do get hired, he thinks increasing their pay as an incentive to retain them should be a priority.
“I’d like to be able to do both but if we had to choose, I’d rather keep the ones we have for as long as we can by paying them a decent wage. Then we’ll do the best we can with what we have then add people through creative methods,” Garner said.
Councilman Scott Robertson said he’s ready to take more immediate measures and rework the budget for next year to keep the officers long term.
“I’d be willing to tap the reserve to hire a couple of more officers right now,” Robertson said. “So you’d be in the market for four more [officers] and we’d have two additional officers on the streets.”
Finance Manager Moreno cautioned that it costs an estimated $100,000 to hire just one additional officer and while he found $20,000 now, cuts would be needed from other departments to make up the difference.
“If you tap into the reserve to fund an officer, which is a routine expense, how do you pay them next year and the next year and the next year?”
Robertson said the city could use reserve funds for the rest of this fiscal year and then between Moreno, Elias and the Council, a financing plan would be devised after that.
“We’re three months into this fiscal year and that would give you time to locate the funding for the next fiscal year and apply for that [federal] grant,” Robertson said.
Councilwoman Montijo raised the concern that the city earn a reputation of hiring officers only to turn around and lay them off the next year. She said she’d rather have a long-term budget plan in place that would draw officers to the city rather than steer them away.
“If that’s going to be our recruitment model, in the long run it could potentially be dangerous to us. At least right now, [officers] want to come to Selma. But if they know that after a year we can’t find the money, they may not want to come at all knowing they’ll get cut anyways. At least right now we’re not letting people off and we’re hiring because we know we can sustain them. That’s a better way of doing business.”
Garner also cautioned that since it takes a year to thoroughly train new officers, it’s smarter to make a plan to hire and retain officers.
“Those officers aren’t going to become functional officers for at least a year once they get through probation and training. To tell that officer the funding is no longer available and having to lay them off is, in my opinion, worse than never hiring them at all,” Garner said.
Robertson countered that since citizens are worried about crime, he’d rather take steps to put more officers on the streets now as a show of good faith.
“The bottom line is people don’t feel safe,” Robertson said. “It’s up to us to be upfront and be part of the solution, instead of just to say we’re listening, to actually propose a solution. I think that solution right now, for the short term, is to add a couple more officers to the police force to let people know we’re listening and acting on their concerns.”
Moreno added that while the funds are available to hire entry-level officers in the short term, hiring more officers will require other departments to tighten their belts.
“We found extra dollars we can use to do the things we discussed here today but I did not see anything that tells me we can fund another position or two more positions without taking cuts from other departments.”
Resident Paula Rogers was among citizens in attendance who continued to voice concerns over safety.
“I still to this day haven’t heard why we don’t have gang injunctions. Somebody’s got to keep reminding you guys since it could be your child, it could mine or it could be your neighbor. We need to do something,” she said.
No action was taken at this meeting as the topic was for discussion only.
The council also discussed other crime-fighting measures such as forming a public safety committee, creating a gang task force, enforcing stiffer curfew laws and mentoring troubled youth to steer them away from gangs.
Moreno also gave a first quarter budget update for the city’s budget stating that some of the revenues and expenditures are estimated as some bills have not yet been received.
“If you chop the budget into quarters, $3.2 million is where you should be standing. Our actuals are at about $3.1 million. That’s a small drop of a negative $13,000. That basically means we’re on track,” he said.
In other matters, the Council approved extending its contract with Second Chance Animal Shelter to June 30, 2019, and allowed for a 10 percent increase to $83,736 for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Second Chance has served as the city’s animal shelter since January 2014.
Fees were waived for the Selma Rotary Band Festival Parade for approximately $2,600 and Christ-Driven Church’s annual Soup and Bread Festival for approximately $283.