For years, the Fresno City Council has heard about vacancies in the police department, affecting the agency’s ability to keep the city safe. In his first budget hearing, Police Chief Paco Balderrama kept the familiar theme during a session that lasted for more than four hours.
There is money in the budget to keep 850 officers on the streets. Balderrama said his long-term goal is 1,000 during his presentation to the council last week.
Shortfall of 150 Officers
But the current on-the-street number is 699. Eighty sworn officers are off-duty because of long-term absences.
The question that seems to be asked every budget hearing is how to recruit new hires? The simple answer, the city council says, is offer more money.
“We want a safer city. We just don’t want to pay for it,” Balderrama told the council last week.
Balderrama said the department has hired 50 new officers this year, with a plan to hire 54 more for the rest of the year. About 15 were sworn in at a ceremony last
Difficulties in recruiting police is nationwide, Balderrama said.
“All those combination of things, the defunding movement, the fact that across the country there were various cases that actually resulted in criminal charges against police officers, just disillusioned a lot of people. It caused a lot of early retirements,” Balderrama said. “It also created a lack of interest and desire to be a police officer. So those are some of the challenges.”
The police department is losing up to four officers a month through retirements.
Another problem is competition from other departments, particularly Clovis.
“Some agencies either pay the same or a little bit more (than) the Fresno Police Department, but the stress is a lot less,” Balderrama said.
A diversity of assignments within the Fresno Police Department is something other agencies cannot offer. A Fresno police officer can work in 35 different types of jobs, something smaller agencies cannot match, Balderrama said.
“For individuals who want to serve a community, this is a great place for it because you get exposed to so much. You get experience very quickly. You get to do a lot of good,” Balderrama said. “When you compare it to people who don’t want to work that hard, they can go make the same money someplace else and be a lot less stressed and be able to get a little more support… that is a challenge.”
Balderrama told the council he is sending his recruiters to military bases and area colleges. The department is also opening up a resident’s police academy.
“These are just some of the things that we’re doing to get the word out there to promote ourselves as a as a great place to work in a city that you want to live in,” Balderrama told the City Council.
Budget Motions on Incentives
On Tuesday, the council will vote on 93 budget motions, including 15 related to the police department. Motions pertaining to recruiting police include:
— Doubling the incentive for lateral hires, from $10,000 to $20,000;
— Raising base salaries for a new officer to be on par with what Clovis offers;
— Offering an incentive program of $10,000 to live south of Shaw Avenue;
— Studying how much it would cost to hire 34 more dispatchers to achieve 911 phone-answering standards.
There was also a long discussion between Balderrama and the council about reducing long-term absences and possible fraud. Balderrama said he wants more accountability to have officers return to work following recovery from an injury.
To help the bottleneck of performing background checks, Balderrama said he is assigning that task to officers who are on light duty.
About the Police Budget
The 2022 Fiscal Year budget is $206 million. That includes hiring 12 new officers (beyond the 838 previously approved), purchasing 64 new vehicles and expanding the ShotSpotter gunfire detection service.
The proposed city budget will spend 52%, or $193 million, of its general fund on police (the balance of the police budget comes from other city sources). Most of the spending ($170 million) is for personnel.
No federal stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan are going to police.