SELMA – The Selma Police Department may be almost fully staffed again, but Council members say it’s still not enough.
“It’s one thing to be back at [previous] staffing [levels], I still think we have to work to the ideal goal which is about four or five officers more than what we’re staffed at,” Councilman Louis Franco said.
His comments came during a status report at the Jan. 16 City Council meeting on the various vacancies and recruitment efforts taking place to replace lost staff in the Selma Police Department.
Police Chief Greg Garner shared crime stats comparing 2016 to 2017 and detailed how the department is streamlining the hiring process.
To fill four current officer vacancies, the department is keeping the recruitment process ongoing and conducting background checks. The department also had one police clerk vacancy and two emergency services dispatcher vacancies at that time. There were 24 applicants for the clerk position and 18 took part in a written exam. Of those, 10 received passing scores and were interviewed Jan. 23.
Two dispatch candidates were having background checks done and were anticipated to be completed soon. Once completed, interviews would be scheduled to select a candidate and fill the last remaining vacancy.
During his update, Garner proposed two ideas to recruit staff in the long-term. The first option is the creation of a police cadet position and would cost an estimated $27,734. A second proposal was the creation of a level three police reserve officer program. That would cost an estimated $8,000.
In the police cadet proposal, cadets would need to meet department qualifications and requirements to be enrolled in a California Peace Officers Standard and Training academy.
“We’d send them to the police academy as a cadet for their training,” Garner said. Depending on the academy they attend, cadets would spend an estimated 1,100 hours in training.
“They’d be a paid city of Selma employee at that time. When they complete that successfully they’d be eligible to be a police officer here in Selma,” he said.
In the level-three reserve program, a reserve is not a city employee.
“A level three reserve is basically a candidate in training,” Garner said. “They’re in the process of completing the necessary training. The idea would be to assist them in the cost associated with going through the police academy.”
Reserves would be provided with uniforms, a gun belt, weapon and ammunition. The proposal includes a monthly stipend of $500 per month.
“Many trainees carry full-time jobs in addition to their training, so this would help them in that situation,” Garner said.
Council members said they like Garner’s idea of partnering with Selma Unified to start a police academy and provide finances to grow their own officers, however they raised concerns that such programs may only reinforce the department as a stepping stone.
“I think it’s very positive to have this home-grown network for the police department,” Councilman Scott Robertson said, “but are we also looking to solve the problem of once they get through the [academy], do we have a reason for them to stay?”
Robertson repeated the need to rework the city’s budget to spend more money on officers’ salaries to offer wage increases and also to hire even more officers.
“There’s no real safeguard here that once they do get the training that we’ll have a level of pay that will keep them here,” Robertson said. “I think the City Council needs to stay focused on that ball with the upcoming budget and funding the salaries correctly and allocating enough resources to keep the officers here.”
Interim City Manager Henry Perea said that while there is no absolute guarantee cadets would stay with the Selma Police Department once they’ve completed the training, he’s betting on officers’ sense of loyalty.
“One thing that’s big in this profession is integrity. I think if someone comes on board with you and accepts your stipend and accepts [that] you [are] paying for their training, they’re going to commit to you,” Perea said. “Is it an absolute guarantee? No, but you’re right on the points you’re making. That’s why the staff and I are working on preparing the budget. We’ll be coming to you soon to talk about dollars.”
Councilwoman Yvette Montijo said the proposals reminded her of how she financed her earlier career as an elementary educator. It was an idea she suggested at a council meeting months ago.
“There are other career paths that do this quite frequently and teaching is one of them. The way I became a teacher is there was a funding source and as I taught in Title I schools, part of my school loans were forgiven. I’m really pleased to see something like this and I’d love to see you develop a program like that.”
Perea described the two different recruitment programs as tools allowing the chief to bring more applicants to the department. But he also likes the idea of home-grown officers as they have more vested interests to stay in town.
“When you have home-grown officers, I think it’s superior in many ways because they’re invested in your community,” Perea said. “Our preferred position is the current process where they’ve already graduated the academy where you hire them and they’re ready to go. The point is, if we create the program and identify a funding source for you, then at the chief’s discretion, if he needs to pivot in that direction, then he can.”
In his update on comparative crime statistics, Garner said that while some incidents increased, such as homicides and burglaries, the majority of categories showed drops from 2016 to 2017.
Homicides increased from one in 2016 to three in 2017. There were 197 burglaries in 2016 and 278 in 2017. The largest drop was in aggravated assaults where there were 251 in 2016 and 101 in 2017.