As the city recovers financially, along with the recent passage of Measure Y – the continuation of the half-cent sales tax – Oakdale city officials moved to bolster the ranks of its condensed police force by adding two police officer positions to the department.
Police Chief Lester Jenkins told the city council at the Monday, Dec. 15 meeting that in 2008, the Police Department was at a staffing level of 28 full-time sworn police officers. Since that time, through attrition and budget cuts resulting in subsequent lay-offs of sworn positions, staffing levels steadily dropped as vacant positions were not backfilled. For the last three years, the department has been working with only 19 full-time sworn officers, struggling now with two officers off injured.
“Voters spoke loud and clear when they passed Measure “Y” with a vote of 70 percent last month,” Jenkins said, in proposing adding two immediate positions. “Had the measure not passed, the department faced the possibility of reducing its line staff even further. Now, with the passing of the measure, the discussion is not whether to increase public safety resources, but rather, by how much to increase these resources.”
Jenkins said that even with 19 full-time officers on the department the police department does not have adequate resources to “hold the line” against the serious criminal elements, nor can it continue to provide the previous high service levels that the citizens of Oakdale had come to expect.
“Serious gang members and criminals are out there and need our attention,” Jenkins said.
The chief added that the reserve force continued to provide frontline services, assisting at peak times, especially weekends, but since many of the reserve officers are retired officers, hours are limited along with the age factor of some approaching 60 years of age.
Jenkins plans to put one approved officer in patrol and one position added into detectives.
The department is currently operating with only one detective who has been weighed down by intensive sex crime investigations and a rise in gang activity crimes including shootings and serious assaults.
With the added positions, personnel will be available for special proactive activities such as probation and parole searches and gang enforcement. According to Chief Jenkins, last year the department wasn’t able to conduct those activities because, even though it had the funds, it didn’t have the available personnel to pull for the overtime.
The department’s goal is to be able to staff its patrol shifts with a sergeant and three patrol officers.
Councilman Don Petersen said he was enthusiastic to make the motion for the agenda item’s passage. All the council was on board to pass the item.
“Go to it chief,” Mayor Pat Paul proclaimed with its passage 5-0.
After the meeting, Jenkins said one reserve officer has already been identified to be hired full-time and Officer Aaron Beatty will move into a detective assignment.
“We’re finally headed in the right direction to build up the structure in the department,” Jenkins said.
In the future, Jenkins anticipates adding another position to work as a traffic officer.
Since the departure of Officer Daniel Peters to Manteca, the department has been without a devoted officer for traffic enforcement. In that time fatalities in the city have risen 300 percent.