Paso police chief says city needs 24 more officers — that’s nearly double its current force

Paso Robles Police Chief Ty Lewis wants to hire two dozen additional police officers.
Paso Robles Police Chief Ty Lewis wants to hire two dozen additional police officers. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Paso Robles’s police chief wants to hire two dozen additional officers — a move he says is necessary to keep up with the city’s growing law enforcement needs.

Police Chief Ty Lewis on Tuesday presented a staffing report to Paso Robles City Council members that laid out a case for hiring 24 new officers. Doing so would nearly double Paso Robles’ current force of 36 officers.

The police department currently has 52 employees, with the remaining non-sworn positions acting as support staff, Lewis said.

“It’s an investment in our future,” he said Tuesday.

Paso Robles has the second largest police department in San Luis Obispo County, behind San Luis Obispo, according to a city staff report.

Fewer officers, slower response times

Police responded to 41,112 calls for service in 2018, an increase of more than 20% since 2014, Lewis said. The average response time for those calls was about 15 minutes, spread across three priority levels., Lewis told The Tribune on Thursday.

With current staffing levels, priority one calls — those in which police are responding to life-threatening situations or other violent incidents — take officers an average of 8 minutes to respond to on the low end and 13 minutes, 40 seconds on the high end, he said.

Officers respond to priority two calls, which include incidents such as burglaries in progress, in 12 minutes, 24 seconds, on the low end and 13 minutes, 34 seconds, on the high end.

Priority three calls — remaining miscellaneous situations — have average response times of 14 minutes, 15 seconds, on the low end and 15 minutes, 43 seconds, on the high end.

The department has a goal response time of four minutes or less for priority one calls, Lewis said.

The longer response times correlate with staffing levels. Sometimes, officers can’t be dispatched to calls because they’re already committed to other situations, Lewis said.

“In a tourist town, that reflects poorly on us sometimes when we don’t respond,” Councilman John Hamon said on Tuesday.

In addition, the department must cope with retirements, resignations and injuries that deplete the force, Lewis said. Six of the city’s officers are currently out of the field due to injuries and other reasons.

A $5 million investment

If Paso Robles were to hire an additional 24 officers, the police department’s staffing levels would be close to those of the San Luis Obispo Police Department, which has 61 officers, Lewis said.

The total cost of hiring the additional officers hasn’t yet been calculated, Lewis said on Thursday. But Paso Robles’ police budget is $11 million, compared to San Luis Obispo’s $16 million allocation.

Therefore, the city would likely need to spend roughly $5 million annually to increase its force, Lewis said. The extra funds would also go toward personnel needed to support the additional officers.

“That’s part of our next phase — to get a real, true estimate,” he said Thursday.

Paso Robles officers prefer to respond to crime in a proactive manner, rather than reactive one — that’s possible only with a larger force, Lewis said.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 5-0 to schedule a community workshop to discuss police staffing options.

Council members noted public safety has consistently been one of the highest-rated community concerns, based on citywide surveys.

“They need some safety, too,” Mayor Steve Martin said of the city’s officers on Tuesday. “They need some backup.”

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She also covers communities in northern San Luis Obispo County. Lindsey became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. She’s a native Californian raised in the Midwest and is a proud graduate of two Chicago schools: DePaul University and Northwestern University.