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Calif. police chief highlights staffing challenges

In the past 5 years, department has faced budget cuts leading to the loss of 11 sworn positions and nearly 40 others

By Liset Marquez
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

UPLAND, Calif. — In the eight weeks since Police Chief Brian P. Johnson has been on the job, there have been 10 shootings — six gang-related — and one homicide.

Through May, there has been a 26 percent spike in violent crimes compared to the first five months of 2014.

As the workload has increased — police records show a 7.6 percent rise in call volume since 2010 — the police force’s staffing has hit a critical low, Johnson said, noting that there are only six officers on a shift.

In the past five years, the city has faced budget cuts leading to the loss of 11 sworn positions and nearly 40 positions in the department.

With the loss of support staff, like a records clerk supervisor, Johnson said the department is so undermanned that the backlog of crime reports has been as high as two months.

“We need problem-oriented police officers to be a mini task force to start to address our crime, our blight, our quality of life issues,” he said. “We can’t do that with our current staffing.”

He is seeking $337,000 to boost staffing, including hiring four officers and four service technicians and converting a position into a records supervisor.

The city’s proposed $43 million budget for 2015-16 has a $542,000 surplus, which City Manager Rod Butler noted could be used to fill any staffing requested by the Police Department.

Johnson, who joined Upland after 26 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, has been evaluating his department’s operations in response to concerns from the City Council about public safety.

Butler said the recommendation by the chief will depend on direction from the council.

“We have the flexibility built into the budget to do four full-time and four part-time police service technicians,” he said. “I think it would be challenging, but I think we can make it happen.”

Councilman Glenn Bozar, who sits on the Police & Fire Committee, said he supports hiring four officers.

“The chief’s needs are the biggest ones right now,” he said.

Councilman Gino Filippi, also a member of the committee, is on board with Johnson’s recommendations.

“Reduction of response times are among the chief’s priorities,” he said. “We must make this long-overdue investment to meet the needs that residents expect and deserve. Public safety is a vital concern to a community and Upland is no different.”

Because of the lack of technology, Johnson said, it took higher-ranking officers hundreds of hours to manually compile the data for the report. Staff obtained information from the Police Department’s records, the city’s finance department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, he said.

Staffing Levels
In a report to the police and fire subcommittee on June 22, Johnson said that while there are 92.5 sworn and civilian officers, only 34 police officers staff patrol units.

The grim reality: Upland typically has only six officers on patrol during a shift. The department staffs three 10-hour shifts a day between Monday through Thursday.

Between Friday and Sunday, despite call loads remaining the same, the department has two 12-hour shifts a day.

“There are only 12 officers really doing the lord’s work, all day long, with no relief. I mean no relief,” he said.

Starting Sunday, Johnson is reactivating a new watch, a swing shift, to give those officers some relief. There will be four officers on the new shift.

“If you get a shooting on a Friday or Saturday night, you’re calling in for help,” Johnson said.

Upland budgeted for 46 officers — with high-ranking positions including the chief, it’s a total of 70 officers — but due to injury and attrition, the number of officers in the field is lower.

Johnson said he is trying to fill some vacancies through lateral hires and others coming up through the academy, but even then it could be up to 18 months before a recruit is out patrolling.

If the City Council were to proceed with his recommendations, it would increase the number of officers to 50.

To get another sense of the disparity, in Upland, the cost of police and staffing is $215.77 per resident on an annual basis. In Chino, it jumps up significantly to $308.39. Chino, which has 80,000 residents spread across 23 square miles, has 103 officers.

Maintaining Service
As an outsider, Johnson said, the notion that Upland is a bedroom community is not true.

“First, we have 15 square miles of real estate with a lot of major thoroughfares and two freeways that bring drugs, gangs and gangsters into our city,” he said.

The latest U.S. Census figures show 76,000 reside in Upland, but Johnson said he believes it’s closer to 80,000 people.

“Here we are in this mindset that we are this small city, but really we’re not. I can assure you of that with 15 square miles and 80,000 residents,” he said. “Think about that when you’re at home knowing you have six cops out there on a shift.”

The downturn in staffing is having an impact. Based on a five-year analysis of the department’s workload and calls for service, the response time for Priority 1 calls has crept up from 5 minutes to 7 minutes. Since 2010,

Officers, Johnson described, are responding to radio call after radio call. The addition of police service technicians would relieve the officers’ workload. Rather than spending time taking supplemental reports, officers can be on patrol, responding to those priority calls and reducing the response time for calls.

Currently, a captain is handling some clerk responsibilities as well as the budget to make sure bills are paid on time. With the help of Johnson, the backlog of records was reduced at one point down to two weeks.

Johnson said he was not sure how long the city can keep it up, given the staffing challenges.

Finding The Funds
Calls for staffing increases is nothing new. Several years ago, similar concerns were raised, but the financially strapped city was unable to act on the recommendations.

This time around, the new chief is turning to outside funding for assistance, specifically the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which is a component within the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We applied for the COPS grant which would give Upland $125,000 per sworn position over three years. It’s about 35 percent of the costs,” he said.

The city won’t know until September if it is awarded funding, Johnson added.

“We did a good job of articulating just the dire financial position that the city is in. Unfortunately, the grant only allows you to compare the last fiscal year and this fiscal year, and it doesn’t look that bleak,” he said.

If awarded the COPS grant and additional funding from the school district to use on a school resource officer, the city would only have to set aside $271,216 for the service technicians, and $40,000 to convert a staffed records clerk position into the records supervisor.
Without the grant, the maximum fiscal impact to the budget would be $765,046.

“This is a value judgment that residents have to make, that elected officials have to make and we as a city family have to make; to figure out how we police the city,” Johnson told the subcommittee.

The report will go to the City Council for review in late July.

For now, Johnson and his staff will work on reducing and the stacks and stacks worth of crime reports into the system that is now six weeks behind.

2015 the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin