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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Chief Black Calls For More Personnel and Training as Budget Priority

On Tuesday May 22, 2007, the Davis City Council had a workshop on the 2007/ 2008 Fiscal Year Proposed Budget. One of the components of this budget were the public safety needs of the police department. Newly hired Chief Landy Black made his first statements as a chief for what he saw as the budgetary needs and priorities of his department.

According to City Manager Bill Emlen, unfunded needs are "basically items that we did not include in the budget but were suggested by the various departments during the course of the budget process."

It is clear to many observers that the Davis Police Department is understaffed in terms of both support staff and actual officers on the beat. Back in February, the Police Ombudsman as well as the council spoke of the need to upgrade training of officers. However, I think one point that really has not been discussed in this community sufficiently is the issue of staffing of the police department and in the unfunded needs (see the graphic), you see a number of them that relate directly to the need for more staff.

These needs include: an IT analyst/ project manager, a fourth lieutenant, a new training officer, a police dispatch supervisor, a police services specialist who specializes in calls for service, and of course additional police officers. The need for new police officers is quite clear and has been for some time. This point has been driven home not only with long response times to often serious crimes such as a daylight downtown bank robbery, but also by basic logistical problems.

Chief Black spoke strongly to the need for the proper levels of personnel as a means to adequately train and supervise officers on patrol. He acknowledged that this was crucial toward dealing with public confidence issues that have arisen in recent years. However, his point also drove home the need for the people that the public may not see--the supervisors, training officers, and support staff all of which appear to be greatly lacking.
"50 percent of our officers are working in the patrol division with minimal supervision. With the public confidence issues that have been dealt with over the last couple of years with the city of Davis I think can be remedied by having quality training, quality supervision, and oversight, and that can't be done by simply moving people around, we need to actually take an aggressive plan, to put in that oversight process, to bring in the people who will be doing the oversight, and show how to properly do their job."
Moreover Chief Black also spoke of the need to ensure that technology such as the video cameras and police computers are operational not just as a means to protect the public but also to protect the officers.
"Part of the problem that we are trying to overcome is a perception of our inability to manage the technology within the department which is creating both a public confidence problem because they expect that our technology's going to do what it is supposed to do to ensure their rights and give us the ability to defend ourself when there are criticism of our actions."
Fortunately it seems that both the video cameras and the in-car computers are now working most of the time, but there was a long delay that not only fed into the perception about the department but also put police officers at risk in several different ways as the chief alluded.

One of the positions in great need is for a fourth Lieutenant position. However, Black also suggested that dispatch is in need of a supervisor. Basically there is one person who is responsible for that job 24 hours a day.

I witnessed this first hand last Saturday as I rode along with a police officer for a "ride along." On this Saturday night they had five units on the beat and two "party officers" who are on overtime and are there to respond to noise complaints and other out of the control party events late on the weekend or Thursday nights. At 1:00 a.m. officers responded to a serious incident involving injuries and an assault.

This incident eventually took up all but one unit that was on duty. Because they needed that last unit free, they did not respond to several of the noise complaints. This was done just in case another serious incident occurred, the one unit could not be tied down.

This incident illustrates how thin the resources are stretch, if a single moderate incident can tie down all but one unit, it is clear that the department simply does not have enough resources to ensure the safety of the city at peak times such as late at night on the weekends.

While the department also requested some equipment, it is clear that personnel is a clear priority both for the department and this community. However, it is also clear that the new personnel needs to coincide with more training. Unfortunately, there are a great number of departments and services in this city that also need to be funded. However, in my view, getting more police officers and more command officers should be one of the highest priorities in this city. Some of the problems that we have seen in the last few years result directly from the lack of staffing and as importantly the lack of supervision and training of the officers who patrol this city. From that perspective of both this community and our police force, we owe it them to fully staff them and properly train them.

I do not mean this to dismiss the need for equipment. Assistant Chief Pierce who is more familiar with past issues, once again made a pitch for a live-fire training facility. I understand the need for that and how that could be of value. However, scarcity of funding means making tough decisions in terms of what gets funded and what does not. From my standpoint, I would prefer that money go toward more personnel, supervisors, support staff, and some of the training proposals that have been discussed in recent years.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting