Paso Robles’ police protection dwindling
February 4, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: See Paso Robles Police sworn officers: a current list of department sworn staff; and Paso Robles’ Service Reduction Plan, a mandated plan for reduced police services at the bottom of this story.
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
Rattled by a recent spike in violent crime, several Paso Robles police officers are questioning the impact the department’s current policy of not always responding to some criminal activities is having on public safety.
Paso Robles has been operating under a reduced police presence for the past year, with stringent new policies requiring that officers not respond to reports of drug activity, driving under the influence, and incidents of vehicular hit and run, whenever the department is operating in “safety mode.”
City Manager Jim App and Chief Lisa Solomon enacted a police department service reduction plan in January 2011 that mandates officers not respond to a long list of crimes during times the department is short-staffed. In addition, the plan changes some day-to-day police response and investigation policies.
For example, during the past year, property thefts with a loss of of $10,000 or less — if not solved immediately by the responding patrol officer — are not forwarded to a detective for further investigation, according to the plan.
“They have taken away officer discretion,” said one officer who asked to remain unnamed to protect him from retaliation. “It (the service reduction plan) is absolutely affecting public safety.”
Due to budget cuts, the department has been thinned from an approved 46 sworn officers in 2007, to 26 officers today.
As a result, the department operated in safety response mode for 587 hours during the past 12 months, said Jim App, the city manager.
That was because of a prior hiring freeze, minus several officers who were placed on paid administrative leave for between four to six months each, and officers who retired or were forced to resign.
During safety mode, only two patrol officers are available to take calls. Dispatchers do not send an officer to 18 types of crimes including battery that is not in progress, theft reports when a suspect is not in custody, drug activity, family disturbances and DUI calls.
“The safety/service response levels were implemented to ensure safety to the public and officers,” App said. “It allows for delayed response to low-level service calls in order to maintain staffing for immediate response to emergency or in-progress calls for service.”
App said he informed city council members of the reduction in services not long after the new program was put into practice.
Councilman Ed Steinbeck said he agrees “that we need to prioritize calls depending on what else is happening at the moment.”
Nevertheless, several officers claim that while Solomon has reduced drug and DUI responses, she is reprimanding officers who do not write enough high-dollar traffic tickets to comply with a questionable ticket quota system further reducing their ability to combat drug and gang activity.
During the past year, Paso Robles’ violent and gang-related crimes have soared with a rash of drug and/or gang-related crimes, including murders, stabbings, robberies, assaults and drive-by shootings.
As a result, officials last year organized a multi-agency task force with a goal of identifying and arresting gang members. During Labor Day weekend, law enforcement personnel including San Luis Obispo County Sheriff deputies blanketed Paso Robles as they rolled out their “Safe Streets” campaign, making 35 arrests and issuing 30 traffic citations.
“We will bring together all resources at my disposal and introduce additional law enforcement partners, including FBI, California Highway Patrol, Monterey County Sheriffs, Probation and Parole, as well as enhancing our local gang task force,” said Sheriff Ian Parkinson during a press conference he held with Solomon in September. “I do not intend to allow this kind of activity in the North County.”
Sheriff department officials did not respond to numerous requests for information regarding the current disposition of the Safe Street campaign and how much assistance the top county law enforcement agency is providing the understaffed Paso Robles Police department.
County wide, law enforcement agencies are short-staffed, mostly by one or two officers. Even so, officials with the county’s other six cities said their police departments are not operating under service reduction plans or safety modes.
Paso Robles Police Department sworn officers:
Currently, the Paso Robles Police Department includes 26 sworn officers:
13 patrol officers
2 patrol officer trainees
Paso Robles’ Service Reduction Plan: