The Merced Police Officers Association on Tuesday released a strongly worded open letter directed at city leaders, calling for better compensation for police and more officers to beef up the ranks of the understaffed department.
The letter, released on the union’s Facebook page, takes direct aim at Merced City Manager John Bramble and the City Council, claiming their “mismanagement has driven the department and city into the ground.”
The letter comes after a Merced officer was shot at least twice during a traffic stop Saturday. The officer has since been released from the hospital.
The union and the city have been in contract talks for about a year. The letter alludes to officers’ pay and benefits, saying city employees are not equal in all ways, and those who serve in law enforcement should be prioritized.
“Mr. Bramble could you tell me the last time an employee from city hall, public works, or even our own records clerks were shot for doing their job?” the letter asks. “Let us answer that for you, never.”
Merced Detective Joe Deliman, who is the president of the police union, which represents most of the department’s sworn officers, said officers hope the Facebook post will drum up support from city residents. He said the letter was written by several members of the union and approved by the group.
“When we’re trying to recruit other officers from other agencies, they’re not going to come here on what Merced has to offer,” Deliman told the Sun-Star. “They’re not offering anything that’s attractive (enough) to bring a veteran officer from another city here.”
City Manager John Bramble said he agreed that officers have a potentially dangerous job. “They’re paid higher than a lot of city employees, and the reason it’s higher is because they do face dangers and potential threats,” he said.
The city’s salary and benefits for police are “on the lower end of the scale” when compared with other places in the state, he said, but many cities are in the same recruitment boat. “Everybody is struggling to get officers when they have vacancies,” he said.
Bramble said the union is entitled to its opinion, and he would not argue with the Facebook post. He also said adding officers is a top priority. “The City Council has made it pretty clear during the Feb. 23 study session that police and fire are our top two priorities in the next fiscal year,” he said.
Officials have admitted that the department has had a difficult time filling spots. The city has 88 budgeted police positions, but a handful of those spots are open. In 2007, the department had 111 officers.
Deliman said it’s time that officers got back the concessions they made to help the city balance its budget a few years ago. He noted, for example, that officers who work overnight get a 1.5 percent bump in pay, but used to get double that amount before agreeing to concessions. Also, officers have conceded certain overtime pay.
Beyond the potential for being shot, Deliman said, police are more likely to be sued than other employees of Merced. Officers are also assaulted. There were 22 cases in 2014 of Merced police officers being assaulted. There were 31 cases in which officers were assaulted in 2013, and 32 cases in 2012. The department reported 23 cases in 2011 and 24 in 2010, according to statistics obtained by the Sun-Star.
Mayor Stan Thurston noted that the city is down an additional three officers this week, as the officer who was shot and two others are on leave. He said the police force is stretched enough. “We’re going to take what’s been requested seriously,” he said.
The city is still ironing out its budget for the coming fiscal year. This year, the city budgeted $20.5 million for the Police Department.
On a similar note, Modesto instituted some incentives to try to fill open positions late last year, including offering bonuses to veteran officers or hiring promising recruits in the academy.
Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or email@example.com.
AT A GLANCE
Starting annual salaries for police officers:
Los Banos: $50,412
Source: Salary schedules from each city’s website