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El Cajon will spend reserves for surplus cops

On Dec. 14, El Cajon City Council unanimously voted to authorize the hiring of 10 additional police officers, overstaffing the current police department, as it is experiencing a higher than normal number of applications for police officer positions. El Cajon Police Department has 94 police officer positions with six vacancies currently, so the city is currently looking to hire 16 police officers.

City Manager Graham Mitchell said the city’s current fiscal year’s budget provides funding for 126 sworn personnel, with 94 of those being police officers.

“Staff believes there is a unique opportunity here to capture some lateral police officers from other agencies, and there is some value in considering overstaffing by 10 positions,” he said.

Mitchell said that it would hire the additional 10 positions that the current budget does not have budget for so it must rely on General Fund reserves.

“Over a three year period, until the 10 staffing is whittled down back to the 94 amounts, based on natural attrition, would cost about $3.5 million in reserve funds,” he said.

Graham said the opportunity to hire trained police officers while there is a market out there, will save the department in having to train new police officers in the future.

“We think there is a savings of about $1.5 million from personnel costs, training costs, other things associated with academies. Hiring 10 individuals overall for a 10-year period would cost about $2 million over a three year period,” he said.

Mitchell said this would give the city much more capacity to deal with current crime issues, public safety issues, and allows the police department to be more proactive in its policing.

Mitchell said staff would bring back a budget amendment at the mid-year budget in early 2022. Mitchell said the communicated with the El Cajon Police Officers’ Association to make sure that it understood what they were trying to accomplish and to get its support for the idea. He said the POA was in complete support understanding that this is not a permanent number as it will drop with natural attrition in the department.

El Cajon POA President Patrick Gomes said that the POA is fully supportive of the 10 additional positions and that the additional officers will benefit the community and the police department.

“Since the recession, El Cajon, as well as most other cities, had to cut staffing,” he stated. “Since then, we have been doing more with less.  The over hire will add much needed depth for officer wellness, possibly add temporary specialty positions to help us tackle community issues and top complaints and equals more officers patrolling the community. Acquiring lateral officers who are already trained means they will quickly make a difference to the staffing levels and should be noticed immediately by the community and save the city and citizens money over several years which can be put back into the city in other needed areas.”

Mayor Bill Wells said this was an extremely innovative idea.

“I think this gives us an opportunity to hire some very experienced police officers and not have to spend the amount on training of brand new officers,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tempore Gary Kendricks said he believes the primary function of local government is public safety.

“This is money well spent,” he said. “I think our citizens our going to like having more police officers out there on the streets.”

According to the City’s Fiscal Year 2021-20222 Annual Budget there has been no significant increase in crimes in El Cajon with 6,432 physical arrests, 1,907 traffic violations, and 2,266 parking violations. Mitchell said that they are not necessarily seeing a specific trend at this time.

“We know that crime is up nationwide and region wide,” he said. “I think that is because of some of the policies adopted by the state of California, so we are having to arrest the same people repeatedly since they do not go to jail. We run a very busy station. If you look at our call volume, we are very busy. There is not a lot of time for proactive policing, community policing, so this will give us more capacity for that, special details, focusing on feeding needs in the community, and hot topic issues that arise day to day. So, it just gives us more capacity.”

Mitchell said the ECPD had many retirees, so it has many rookies, so this gives the department more longevity for tenured police officers which will help balance out the police department.

Council member Phil Ortiz thanked staff for “striking while the iron’s hot” because there is much potential in lateral officers that are currently on the job market and taking advantage of that is a great idea in recruiting them.

Council member Steve Goble asked Graham if they decided to hire more than the 10 if staff had the discretion to do so, but Graham said he would have to come back to council to hire more.

“The City of El Cajon is currently accepting applications for police officers. We are seeking officers with strong moral character, high ethical values, and a desire to make a difference in the community. In addition to a competitive compensation package, the City is offering officers transferring from other departments a bonus of $5,000,” said El Cajon Chief of Police Mike Moulton.

In the current adopted budget, the police department and animal control 2021/22 budget is $41,414,645, an increase of $3,050,084. This includes the use of $100,000 of General Fund reserves for additional training in the police department in the areas of de-escalation and less-than-lethal use of force. The salary range for a Police Officer is $106,400 annually. The pay scale range between a Police Services Officer I and a Police Captain is $77,700 to $132,500.

For the fire department the budget is $17,874,511, an increase of $930,984.

Mitchell said the City froze positions for most of the last fiscal year preparing for the worst with COVID-19 impacts, but that the city has had a record number of hires in the past six months.

“The market it tight, but it has not been extraordinarily difficult to attract good employees,” he said.

Mitchell said the city has now hired back up to normal staffing level, and from a budget perspective it is sustainable. But adding other city staff is not needed right now, and it would not be sustainable.

Michell said they concluded to ask Council for the additional officers in a collective decision by the city’s executive team, with all of them brainstorming different solutions to possible foreseeable problems.

El Cajon will spend reserves for surplus cops

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Source: East County Californian

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