Merced police lieutenant Jim Gurden ready to retire

Longtime officer's departure to bring numbers down to 84

abutt@mercedsunstar.comJune 13, 2012 

The ever-shrinking brass at 22nd and M streets will be even smaller this month, after a longtime member of the Merced Police Department turns over his service weapon for life as a retiree.

Lt. Jim Gurden will leave the department June 25, after serving the department since 1986. He currently supervises the department's investigations division, in addition to the SWAT team and bomb squad.

Gurden, 51, said he's considering moving to Washington state or Montana to be close to family. "I've come to a crossroads in my career and I feel like this is a good time to step aside and allow some of the younger officers to take over," Gurden said.

He said he'll miss the camaraderie of the department the most. Chief Norm Andrade said the department would miss Gurden's "wealth of experience," adding Gurden had served in almost every unit over the years, except traffic.

Because of the city's current economic outlook, Andrade said he doesn't plan to fill Gurden's lieutenant slot, although Lt. Tom Trindad will now oversee investigations.

Andrade said he'd hoped Gurden's retirement would let him save a position in the police department. However, recent budget sessions and discussions have shown that money may be used toward the parks and recreation budget for youth activities.

With Gurden's departure, the department's leadership will decrease to its slimmest level in recent memory.

For example, three commanders, six lieutenants and 11 sergeants supervised the department six years ago. Now, the department will have no commanders, five lieutenants and 10 sergeants, due to attrition, retirements and layoffs.

In 2006, the department had 111 sworn officers. After Gurden retires, there will be 84.

Back in 2006, the department had the luxury of hiring new officers, because of a healthy influx of dollars from the voter-approved Measure C.

With the city's current general fund deficit of $1.79 million, however, money is in short supply at the department. "That's a huge impact on us. We have had to consolidate and disband units so they can come back to patrol so we can still bring that level of service the city is used to getting," Andrade said.

Because of previous budget cuts, the commanders' supervisorial duties now fall upon the remaining five lieutenants.

For example, the department's lieutenants perform on-scene supervision, in addition to administrative duties like being in charge of records or reports that go before the council. They can have additional duties like being in charge of the bike or K-9 units.

Andrade remains hopeful that once money flows back into the coffers -- whenever that may be -- the department can expand.

The 2012-13 budget for police is an estimated $16.89 million, compared to $16.79 million in 2011-12, according to budget documents.

Andrade said he didn't know how many layoffs would occur this year because negotiations with the Merced Police Officers Association and Merced Association of Police Sergeants are ongoing. "There is nothing left more to cut," he said.

But, he said when times do get better and the department expands, the growth would be "incremental." That could mean a possible restructuring of duties and positions of police officers. Promotions could also come from within the department, he said.

"Inside promotions are healthy and good for the department because it gives them the opportunity to grow," he said.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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