Paso Robles police union disputes hiring of sergeant, saying patrol officer should have been hired instead

Acting police chief defends his decision, saying new hire is seasoned and can share his expertise with new patrols

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comOctober 30, 2012 

The Paso Robles Police Association is concerned that the city hired a supervisor instead of more patrol officers, but acting Police Chief Robert Burton defended his decision, saying the new hire is a seasoned sergeant who can share his expertise with new patrols.

“This is a very important point because both police experience and institutional knowledge of the city can impact service delivery to the community if you don't have the right mix,” Burton told The Tribune.

The police employee union -- representing the department’s dispatchers, officers and sergeants -- said in a written statement that had it known officials were considering hiring a supervisor, it would have proposed that more officers be hired instead.

“We would have proposed alternatives that better suit the needs of the department now and in the future,” the union’s statement said.

Tony Ruiz, president of the Paso Robles Police Officers’ Association, read the statement aloud at the Oct. 16 City Council meeting. The council has not replied publicly.

Department staffing

Severely understaffed due to a citywide hiring freeze, police were authorized to hire more officers late last year to bring the department up to 32 sworn positions. In good times, the department has the potential to hire 46 sworn officers.

The department currently has 28 sworn officers, including nine designated as supervisors. Starting Monday, two new patrol officers will join the department, bringing the number of sworn officers to 30, Lt. Ty Lewis said.

Finding the right balance among a pool of new hires is key, Burton said.

Since last November, police have hired eight new patrol officers “with varying degree(s) of experience as police officers and virtually no experience policing our community,” Burton said.

Burton became interim chief after former police chief Lisa Solomon resigned in April. The city is looking to hire a permanent replacement.

Burton hired former police officer Clint Wenter Oct. 14 as the department’s sixth sergeant. Wenter retired as a sergeant in December 2010, but expressed interest in returning to the force – a move that was possible because city policy allows past employees to be reinstated if they have been gone less than two years. He has 26 years of law enforcement experience specifically in Paso Robles.

Since he’s once again earning a salary from the city, he’s no longer drawing retirement pay, Lewis said.

The employee union said it has no qualms with Wenter personally. Rather, it’s “more about the city's actions and decisions,” union vice president Detective Michael Rickerd said.

Patrol sergeants work directly with patrol officers in the office and in the field, Burton said. A sergeant typically responds to calls to help direct the officers, takes cases when necessary and talks with citizens about policy or procedures, he added.

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