The $1.2 billion Fresno city budget approved last month for the 2019-20 fiscal year includes no increases in sworn police officers.
That doesn’t sit well with at least one candidate for the open seat on the Fresno City Council.
Three of the five men vying for the District 2 seat talked about policing and other issues at a candidates forum June 26, presented by GV Wire and CMAC. A special election is scheduled for Aug. 13 to select a replacement for Steve Brandau, who was elected to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in October.
Candidates Jared Gordon, Mike Karbassi, and Oscar Sandoval took part in the forum. The remaining two, Lawrence Garcia and George Herman, chose not to participate.
Number of Sworn Fresno Officers Unchanged
The 825 sworn officers in the upcoming budget, approved by the city council in June, is essentially unchanged from police staffing levels in 2018-19. The department had 800 officers in 2017-18.
The police department’s budget for the coming year is $201.8 million, up 9.5% from the current fiscal year. In addition to sworn officers, the number of total employees in the department also is unchanged, at 1,122.
The council’s District 2 lies in the police department’s northwest district. Violent crime in the policing district (which covers an area beyond just District 2) decreased by 17.9% in 2018, from 28 reported incidents in 2017 to 23. Property crime, however, rose by 12.8%, to a total of 380 cases. Burglaries leaped by 53% and vehicle thefts by 65%.
Karbassi: ‘Every Budget Should Add More Cops’
Karbassi said he has taken a “no officers, no budget” pledge. “If you come to me with a budget that doesn’t include hiring more police officers or support staff, I’m not going to vote for it,” he said.
He said research indicates Fresno is far below the ratio of officers to residents necessary to ensure proper levels of public safety. Fresno is about 200 officers short, he said: “Every budget should add more cops.”
Karbassi declined to give specifics about where the city could find the money to hire more police. “I’m not going to single out any department,” he said. “But I’m going to look at the budget line item by line item. We’re going to have to find the money.”
Gordon: Make Officers More Effective and Capable
Gordon said he was willing to look at increasing the size of the police force, but added he believes the city can do more to sharpen the capabilities of the officers it has.
“New officers cost about $120,000 a year, so we’d have to find a way to pay for those officers. It’s a challenge that we’ll face,” Gordon said.
He said the city should invest more in training current officers, giving them new tools and equipment, and “improving their communications capabilities.”
“We can make the officers that we have more effective and more capable,” Gordon said. “We don’t necessarily need to be at the typical level of officers, although certainly if we can afford it we should be there.”
Sandoval: Officers Should Be Like Neighbors
Sandoval agreed that “our police officers shouldn’t be understaffed.” But, like Gordon, he said the focus should be on the existing force. “There is more we can do to foster better relationships between the police and the community,” he said.
More programs that improve relationships between police and the people they serve is important, Sandoval said. “When you think about a policeman, ideally you always want to put the word ‘neighbor’ in front of them, because that’s what these people should be.”
Sandoval noted a recent weekend of gun violence in Fresno that included a 10-month-old girl being shot in the head. At one of the shooting scenes, many witnesses refused to cooperate with officers, he said.
“Unfortunately, that stems from a distrust in the police department as a whole,” Sandoval said. “And that affects all of us because that allows criminals to keep good to get away with their crime.”