Government / Politics

Police officer retention efforts, new vehicles approved by city council

Police chief says new vehicles will help department expand its off-road capabilities; retention efforts will keep officers on the streets
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Members of the community meet to discuss potential projects aimed at the conservation of the Pajaro River Watershed
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The Hollister City Council approved two resolutions April 18 that benefit the Hollister Police Department. The first was to authorize the department to purchase a three-quarter ton, four-wheel drive pickup through a state bid, as well as a UTV and trailer through a local retailer. The second resolution authorizes the department to utilize enhanced recruitment and retention measures to better enable it to keep valued police officers.

Chief David Westrick said the pickup truck would give police better access to the San Benito River bed. It would also be used to tow the department’s command trailer.

“In recent months, we’ve had operations in open spaces and we need access to those areas to get our personnel there,” he said. “There have been injuries to public safety members in accessing that area. Fortunately for us they have not been Hollister personnel, but I would seek to prevent injuries.”

The UTV will carry backboards for emergency medical technicians to help bring out people who might be injured in the riverbed or back country. Councilwoman Mickie Luna asked that, if approved, would the department be able to have the vehicle before the motorcycle rally. Westrick said that was possible and that the UTV could be used during the rally, as well. Councilman Karson Klauer wondered how the vehicles would be paid for. Westrick said that because the department has had up to four personnel vacancies, there has been significant savings in salaries. He assured the council that he expected the vehicles to be purchased for far less than the $76,000 amount in the resolution.

Westrick reminded the council that the department had not purchased more than five vehicles through general fund money. Every other vehicle, he said, has been free to the city or obtained through grants. He said the trailer that will be used with the UTV would also be not cost the city.

In regards to the second resolution concerning recruitment and retention measures, Westrick said the city has lost six officers in two years at a cost of $35,000 to recruit and train each through the probation period. He said he wanted to take steps to mitigate those costs. He said he has studied methods for doing so through different agencies nationwide and that he sees the resolution as the first phase of a retention program. In the future, he said he would want a more comprehensive retention process.

“The items I would propose tonight are recruitment bonuses and recognizing the experience of lateral officers,” Westrick said. “The numbers (for bonuses) are sort of in the middle for our state. The highest being about $20,000 and the lowest being in the $2,500 range.”

Klauer said the resolution might work for recruitment, but wondered if something would eventually have to be added for retention. Westrick said those items would include wages and benefits, which he didn’t feel was appropriate to consider now. Klauer also asked for clarification of what a "P.O.S.T. basic certificate" was. Westrick said when an employee who is a police officer has passed their probationary period, the state awards them the P.O.S.T. (Peace Office Standards and Training) certificate. He said that means, along with their academy training, they are certified police officers.

Councilman Raymond Friend said he did not have any issues with recruitment, but added he would have issues with retention, which he said is something the entire council will need to help him with.

“Sometimes it’s not just money,” Friend said. “We can work together to make sure that if they’re looking at Fresno or Santa Clara County we can help them make a better decision.”

Westrick agreed and said he had presented several ideas to Bill Avera, city manager, as well as the fire department.

“My job is to protect this funding that you provide the police department to do its job,” Westrick said. “When I, as a leader, see us losing six officers in two years, that is a lot of money leaving our area when we’ve spent this time training them. Many of them we’ve trained in highly-advanced specialties, which is expensive to get them in there.”

Luna asked Westrick how many positions needed to be filled. The chief said there were two open positions, adding that he possibly had a grant position opening up soon. Luna asked if some of the training costs were reimbursable. Westrick said some training was reimbursable up to 100 percent.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez asked if there were a minimum amount of time that officers had to stay with the city if they received a bonus.

“If they complete probation and get their check and the next day they say, ‘Thank you for the check, but I’m moving to get paid a higher wage where I really wanted to work,’ what are we doing to make sure that’s not going to happen?” he asked.

Westrick said that’s the universal question of every agency in California.

“The short answer is, there’s not a lot you can do about it,” he said. “That’s why we need to work on the retention part of it.”

Velazquez still had problems with the issue, questioning its open-endedness and saying that with the training, the officer is worth more money to another city.

“There has to be some clarity in there,” he insisted, “to make sure that’s not going to happen.”

“You’re asking about some kind of contract?” Westrick asked.

“What can we do to look for people who are more committed?” Velazquez said. “If we’re going to chase people for money the problem becomes they’re always chasing money. We’re looking for people who want to live and work here and have their career here.”

Westrick said: “In the 90s we tried to do contracts and a lot of cities and counties were sued. There hasn’t been a lot of success with those. There are other things we can do and that’s the conversation we need to have with retention.”

When the mayor still seemed hesitant about passing the resolution without some sort of guarantee, Avera cautioned the council: “Contracts go both ways. You may run into a situation where you’ve hired somebody and the next day you may need to lay them off. You don’t want to be in a situation where you have a contract that requires them to be here for three or four years because they received a bonus. Chief Westrick is absolutely correct. You work on other methods of retention.”

Velazquez then wanted to know about the $2,000 bonus that would go to a “recruiter,” and asked if that was a professional recruiter or anyone in the community who recommends someone for the department. Westrick said a recruiter would be a police officer within the department who recommends someone, gets them hired, and then mentors them through probation.

During the public comment discussion of the resolution, Marty Richman agreed with Avera that a contract could bring trouble to the city. He said there needs to be a more comprehensive understanding of the police department, stating that it simply might be too small to encourage someone to stay, thinking they could advance. He likened it to the military, where the professionals stayed while the younger troops had to keep moving in order to advance.

Richman said it was his understanding that quite a few public safety people live in Hollister and commute to other cities. He said Hollister will never be able to pay what other, larger cities pay and recommended that Hollister should be “poaching” officers from those cities.

“There’s no nice way to put it,” he said. “We ought to go to them and say ‘we can save you five hours a day in the commute and all the aggravation that goes with it. Time is money. You want to spend more time with your family? Come here. We need to gather that information of how many people are commuting and once you take off all the hours it takes to drive to work and all the hours they spend on the road, how much less are they really making?”

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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.