Opinion

City of Merced winning battle against gangs, murder

Merced police Officer Steve Smith leads the formation during an active shooter training exercise at the Merced County Fairgrounds on April 12, 2016. Police agencies from Merced, Atwater, Livingston and UC Merced took part in the training along with the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, the California Highway Patrol, Merced County Probation, Riggs Ambulance Service, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Merced County, and the Merced Fire Department.
Merced police Officer Steve Smith leads the formation during an active shooter training exercise at the Merced County Fairgrounds on April 12, 2016. Police agencies from Merced, Atwater, Livingston and UC Merced took part in the training along with the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, the California Highway Patrol, Merced County Probation, Riggs Ambulance Service, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Merced County, and the Merced Fire Department. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

The county of Merced is facing a public safety crisis, but the Merced Sun-Star’s editorial on April 29 (“Do whatever it takes to stop murders in Merced County”) overlooked an important fact about the city of Merced: There haven’t been any homicides in our city limits in 2016.

As of the submission of this article, all of the deadly violence that has occurred this year has been in areas outside of the Merced city limits. We fully understand that can change at any moment and that we still have our work cut out for us.

We are not in any way resting on our laurels. In fact, we intend to add three additional sworn officer positions to our Police Department next month. This is in addition to the four we added last year. Seven new positions is significant for a department with 83 officers.

Further, as a City Council we recognized that we would be losing valuable members of our Police Department if we did not increase officers’ compensation packages. We unanimously did that last year and will always monitor other cities to make sure we remain an employer of choice for the men and women in uniform.

The editorial attributes “the spike in murders to greatly increased gang activity tied to narcotics and prostitution.” Our city has a group of officers assigned to our Gang Violence Suppression Unit and Disruptive Area Response Team. These officers have proactively been removing guns from convicted felons, arresting gang “shot callers,” and breaking up prostitution rings that bankroll other crimes.

In addition to the GVSU, we also have three officers assigned to proactively fight gang and narcotics crimes in other areas of the county before they reach our city limits. These investments are paying off.

We are not only focused on suppressing gang violence, but also using our police powers to maintain great neighborhoods. Since last year, we have doubled the number of code enforcement officers and intend to keep adding to those numbers, because keeping homeowners, including out-of-town landlords, accountable for maintaining their property is in every resident’s best interest.

We are also making capital investments in our Police Department. Our city is in the early planning stages of building a new police headquarters.

Our current facility has served us well, but it is showing its age and will soon limit our ability to fight crime.

Newspaper editorials and articles that do not make a clear distinction between the city of Merced and other parts of Merced County have real economic impacts here in the city limits. They make it more challenging to grow economically. Increasing commerce and industry in our city is the key to our long-term success. It creates the tax base that allows us to fund the important functions of government, including law enforcement.

At a time when being a police officer is often a thankless job, the men and women in law enforcement across Merced County do it with professionalism and skill. The job of elected officials is to give them the resources to be effective. Within the city limits we are committed to doing that.

Mike Murphy is a member of the Merced City Council and candidate for mayor.

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