Bob Calaway: For 5 cents, you can save Atwater Police Department

January 21, 2013 

The men and women of the Atwater Police Department need help from the citizens of Atwater. Between the years 2003 and 2007 the police department operated with an efficient number of officers and a stable support staff.

Duty officers were able to respond to citizen calls for service in approximately two to three minutes. Calls for service could be anything from a reported homicide, robbery, burglary in progress, rape, theft of a car, disturbance at a bar or house, gang activity, use of drugs, traffic accident, missing child or other requests.

The sworn strength of the police department has been reduced since 2007 from a high of 36 sworn officers to currently 26 sworn officers. This reduction of patrol officers will have a direct impact on our community. For example, in 2012 because of budget restriction an officer assigned to the Gang Task Force and department traffic officer were returned to patrol duties. The department receives more than 2,000 calls for service each month, and you must have four to five officers on each shift if the two- to three-minute response time is to be maintained. As the number of sworn officers is reduced, calls for service response time will increase, resulting in a much lower level of patrol service and safety.

The department has three school resource officers. Because of the shortage of officers in the patrol division, it looked like these officers would be removed from their duties and returned to the patrol division. But, thanks to the Atwater School District, which helped the police department tremendously by continuing funding, the school resource officers will remain at schools. The working conditions between the students, teachers and school administrators are very good, and the safety and security of our students is a very high priority.

The Atwater Police Officer Association agreed to a 22 percent pay reduction. This agreement probably saved the loss of four more sworn officers. Other police employees and city employees had their work hours reduced from 40 hours to 32 hours per week. Budget constraints and less sworn officers on the street will impact the safety and security of our community and its citizens. Even property value can be reduced by a high crime rate.

The issues and examples discussed make the approval of the special tax of one-half cent extremely important. The upcoming special election in March 2013 will determine if the public safety (police and fire) departments can still provide quality services.

The special tax money will be used only to supplement Atwater police and fire departments. The police department needs to maintain a mandated training program (budget cut), equipment (budget reduction), budget for salaries (arms and legs cut off). The Atwater Fire Department salary and fringe benefits are paid by the state of California funded through city of Atwater, Cal Fire existing contract. The city of Atwater is responsible for providing the fire department equipment and two fire stations.

The special tax election in March 2013 requires 66 percent approval of those citizens who vote. The reason for this special election is to create and supplement the police and fire department budgets.

What is it going to cost me? For example, for every $10 spent on taxable items, 5 cents is placed into the Atwater Public Safety Services Account. A Citizens Oversight Committee made up of women and men from the community will monitor the Special Tax Supplemental Funds. The Citizens Oversight Committee will also make recommendations to the City Council for the public safety departments (police and fire) needed expenditures.

Please keep in mind, you are not alone. Any person in Merced County, all of California or any state or foreign country who stops in Atwater and makes a purchase helps to create funds for our Public Safety Services. More information to come in press releases, town hall meetings, on the website, and at group meetings.

Calaway is a retired Atwater police chief.

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