By Steve Rohwer
The Walnut Creek Police Association has formally endorsed 3 of the 4 candidates in the coming election for Walnut Creek City Council: Mayor Bob Simmons, Deputy District Attorney Barry Grove, and Justin Wedel. We feel that they have the qualifications, leadership, vision, and experience best suited to preserve and enhance all the aspects that make Walnut Creek special, unique and treasured by its residents and visitors. While people are attracted to our city for its shopping, restaurants, arts and recreational events, and its excellent schools, they also come here because the officers and management of the Walnut Creek Police Department work diligently to preserve life and property and provide a sense of safety and comfort for those who enjoy Walnut Creek’s attributes.
Our community unfortunately will never be completely crime free; however, a well staffed, well trained, dedicated, professional police department and its ability to not only rid our community of those who commit crimes, but prevent crimes from happening in the first place, is the cornerstone upon which a safe, vibrant, and growing community is laid.
With the recent economic downturn many city services were either scaled back or eliminated altogether. Dozens of city employees were laid off, and other positions were frozen (purposely not filled). The Police Department was not spared these cuts or concessions. Nine positions were frozen within the PD, 5 sworn and 4 non sworn. One of the non-sworn positions was filled by a Lieutenant, so that effectively eliminated 6 sworn positions.
Here are some facts about the WCPD:
Police staffing is currently authorized at 77 sworn officers, an increase of one over last year. This increase is a restoration of a previously frozen position enacted by the City Council. Next July 2013 one more will be 'unfrozen' to bring us to the same level authorized in 1996 — 78. (These two unfrozen sworn positions came at the expense of freezing another non-sworn parking enforcement position.) However, due to long-term injuries, military leave, and retirements, our actual staffing level for years has been 70-72 officers. Four MORE officers will be retiring next month. To bring a new officer onto the street, from the time of job application, hiring, 6 months of academy training and 4 months field training takes an entire YEAR. Hiring an officer from another department (lateral) cuts that time in half. Other civilian positions within the PD have been cut as well.
We no longer have a crime prevention coordinator. We have NO school resource officers anymore. Because of staffing shortages, our traffic team hasn't been a team at all for most of this year but rather a traffic INDIVIDUAL. We used to have a traffic squad of 8 officers and a traffic sergeant. In September, the WC Patch mentioned that the WCPD Motor Squad, which for years routinely led our beloved Walnut Festival Parade, was missing. Well sadly, a solo motor officer leading a parade doesn't make much of an impression. Next month, the last traffic officer standing will be taken off of traffic duty and working patrol. The only traffic enforcement that will be provided will be from patrol officers who happen to notice something on their way between calls for service, which are at an all-time high. We already no longer routinely investigate minor property damage-only collisions, a service we used to provide when WCPD had a fully staffed Traffic Team. Traffic citations issued are down over 50 percent. Not surprisingly, collisions have increased during the same time frame.
We simply do not have the staffing to address legitimate requests for traffic enforcement in Rossmoor, other WC neighborhoods, our schools, or downtown. While we recognize that traffic violations and the problems lack of traffic enforcement inevitably cause are not ‘major’ issues compared to felonious assaults or home burglaries, they do directly affect the quality of life and comfort level Walnut Creek residents and its visitors expect. Furthermore, traffic officers do more than enforce traffic violations. Our police administration has long recognized the value a fully staffed traffic squad brings. Motor officers, because they can quickly maneuver through Walnut Creek's notoriously heavy traffic, are often the first on scene of a major felony incident, and have in the past captured scores of criminals preying on our community.
Recently all 4 candidates for City Council attended a forum in Rossmoor where the candidates answered questions about public safety:
Perhaps Ms. Haskew was misquoted or misinformed when she incorrectly stated that we have provided more traffic enforcement in Rossmoor in the last year and that crime in all categories is down. We in fact have not provided more, but much less traffic enforcement, not only in Rossmoor but throughout the city, and serious felonies are up, not down. We understand Ms. Haskew was at a public forum hoping to portray herself as "in touch" with public safety issues in Walnut Creek in an effort to garner votes. However her statements on these matters were simply wrong. There aren’t enough personnel allocated to traffic issues. Very soon there won't be any. Serious crimes are up, and likely to continue as the state of California complies to a federal order to release 40,000 convicted felons early, many of whom came from Contra Costa or Alameda County. These felons who have spent a lifetime preying on others unfortunately will not be responding to the good fortune of their early release by getting a job and becoming productive, if history is any lesson to us. This letter is not meant to alarm anyone or to get 'demands' met for increased staffing. It is meant to inform you and readers of WC Patch about where the status of public safety truly is in Walnut Creek.
It is more likely than not that with projected retirements next year, assuming no more injuries or other unforeseen shortages (a very tenuous assumption), that the WCPD will not get up to even the authorized 78 personnel level before the end of 2013, and that's a best case scenario.
Chief Bryden has told the Council he needs well over 80 officers to adequately provide the level of police service that WC residents have come to expect. The present Council did fund one more officer this fiscal year and one more starting next July as stated above, but that is still far short of what Chief Bryden has asked for. Our current Council’s support of our Chief in regards to staffing has been long on words and short on deeds at best.
The community and our Chief of Police deserve a City Council that will do more than pay lip service to public safety. They deserve a Council that will govern in a responsible, balanced manner that gives the police department the resources it needs to provide the safety and service WC residents and visitors deserve and expect, while also preserving the other aspects of Walnut Creek (arts, restaurants, shopping, etc) that makes Walnut Creek the crown jewel of Contra Costa County. We believe electing Barry Grove, Justin Wedel, and Bob Simmons will do just that.
Steve Rohwer is president of the Walnut Creek Police Officers Association.