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Cop Consolidation? - Officials Eye Police Changes
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In light of continuing tough budget times, change could be coming to the way in which police protection is delivered for Oakdale and Riverbank.

Oakdale City Manager Steve Hallam recently revealed that the city has explored an interest in providing police services to the City of Riverbank. In her State of the City address on Jan. 26, Mayor Pat Paul also addressed the possibility of combining police services with the neighboring city.

The City of Riverbank currently contracts with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department for its law enforcement services. That contract provides for 21 sworn officers in the $3.4 million contract.

Hallam stated Oakdale was late in the process last year and Riverbank had already agreed to the contract with the sheriff’s department in July 2010. The Oakdale Police Department does provide animal control services to Riverbank.

The city, during stringent budget times, is attempting to improve and expand the level of public safety services. Hallam cited the success of the Oakdale Fire Department and Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District’s recent partnership as the catalyst for the examination of providing contract services.

“No city today can work as an island,” said Hallam. “We all rely on each other for complementary services.”

The idea of neighboring cities jointly providing law enforcement is not unique in some California communities. The Twin Cities Police Department is a joint merger of the cities of Corte Madera and Larkspur in Marin County. Those communities consolidated their police services in 1980. Two members of each city’s council and both city managers form the police authority board that oversees the department. Overall management is overseen by one police chief and command staff.

“I wouldn’t be doing due diligence if I didn’t look at other options,” said Riverbank City Manager Richard Holmer about the possibility of Riverbank and Oakdale merging police services. “I’ve had meetings of what it would look like, but it’s early in the process.”

Holmer said he was looking at many options including Riverbank having its own police force or a larger merger to include other cities now contracting with the sheriff’s department. Holmer evaluated the current sheriff’s contract and noted that sheriff’s retirement costs rose $400,000 for the contracted employees, sparking interest in seeking options to the sheriff’s department.

“Two cities operating a joint effort (for police services) aren’t uncommon,” Holmer said, stating he was aware of neighboring Southern California cities that have joint policing.

The city of Yorba Linda broke away from contracting with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in 1970 and started contracting with the Brea Police. Since 1995, the Whittier Police Department has provided police services to the neighboring community of Santa Fe Springs.

Holmer said that in addition to cost savings and providing a higher level of service, one of the benefits to a joint department would be more consistency of staffing, pointing out that frequently sheriff’s personnel are rotated out of Riverbank due to promotions or movement into specialized assignments.

“We like to get a two-year commitment, at least,” said Holmer. “There is a great benefit when the officers work in the city for a longer period of time.”

Other benefits to a merger or joint operation include only one set of administrative and support staff needed for the department’s operation, eliminating overlapping responsibilities. Additionally street units can be easily moved to patrol or provide assistance to in-progress or high profile incidents from one city to another and one set of detectives would be able to investigate crimes for both communities.

Oakdale Police Chief Marty West stated the city council held a strategic planning workshop last summer to revisit existing three-year goals and one of those goals was to maintain an acceptable level of public safety. Another objective was for the fire chief, police chief, then-Mayor Farrell Jackson, and council member Tom Dunlop to explore additional public safety partnerships and make a report.

According to city documents that report was due yesterday, Feb. 1, 2011.

Chief West, last year’s president of the Stanislaus County Association of Law Enforcement Executives, relayed that a committee to explore partnerships among the existing law enforcement agencies within the county was formed and discussions have been ongoing. The discussions, however, have been very preliminary.

Last fiscal year the City of Oakdale was hit with an eight-officer cut in the police budget. Because of the cuts, the department had to lay off four officers, cutting back on its detective division and patrol staffing levels.

Oakdale councilwoman Katherine Morgan said the city council has been made aware of the possible proposal to combine police services with Riverbank.

“It’s a smart and feasible move,” said Morgan. “There are benefits and the quality of coverage would benefit both cities.”

Morgan said she believes the personnel of the Oakdale Police Department have a lot to offer and by sharing the services with Riverbank, that would allow the department to grow and venture in to specialized enforcements.

“We could get all of our officers back,” she said, referring to the laid off police officers. “You’d only need one police chief, one records center or administration and more officers could be on the job.”

Detective Brian Shimmel, recently elected as president of the Oakdale Police Officers Association, said he was aware of the possibility of Oakdale Police Department providing law enforcement services to Riverbank but was not aware if the POA had been approached for its input.

Shimmel said, “If it gets our laid off cops back on the job, I’m for it.”