Paso Robles Police Department hit hard by cutbacks

The Paso Robles Police Department is no stranger to cutbacks. Over the past year and half it has been forced to whittle its services to the core because of the city’s continuing financial woes. But now, because of declining revenues, the city’s deficit is projected to extend into 2015. City officials had previously projected shortfalls through 2013.

Until things turn around, the police department will have to make do.

“It will take many years to get back to where we were,” City Manager Jim App said about the city’s financial health.

The continuing budget troubles mean students will no longer learn about drugs from a D.A.R.E. officer, drivers in noninjury traffic collisions will no longer get police response, and it will take longer for police to respond to victims of property crime.

Almost all of the department’s special programs staff have been moved to the patrol division to maintain a four-minute response time.

“The main mission of law enforcement is to have an officer go to someone who calls for help,” police Chief Lisa Solomon said.

And that’s the policy the department has stuck to since downsizing began in 2007. Cuts have been ramped up in the past 18 months, Solomon said.

The police budget was about $8.5 million this year — about $2 million less than in 2007.Overall, the department is operating with 53 employees this year, compared with 68 employees in 2007.

The biggest impacts have hit full-time sworn officers and civilian part-time employees, such as dispatchers and records clerks.

The department is running on 32 full-time officers — nine fewer than it did in 2007. It’s down to four civilian part-time employees from the 11 in 2007.

The full-time civilian work force has remained intact with 12 employees, although they have been moved around.

Programs have disappeared through attrition, retirement and reassignment. Layoffs are not currently being considered.

It’s not yet clear how the police reductions will impact citizens in the long run.

“What’s happening is we cut, cut, cut and now we’re seeing those dominoes falling,” Solomon said.

The positive in downsizing, Solomon said, is being able to re-evaluate how department practices can be improved when funding returns.

“We will be rebuilding from scratch. So we’ll go in knowing what programs we’ll reinstate first, what the public misses most and what will be best for the community,” she said.

In the meantime, the department is no longer running four special programs.

Additionally, patrol shifts will operate with one fewer officer than they did before.

Other casualties include a Paso Robles Housing Authority officer, dedicated motorcycle patrols and a civilian who ran safety programs such as Neighborhood Watch.

The D.A.R.E. officer administered the California Police Activities League’s decade-old free summer baseball league — Jr. Giants — that serves up to 300 youngsters. As a result of the cut, the league will not return in 2011. Volunteers may be sought.

The two school resource positions have been trimmed to one. The middle school officer was returned to patrol, and the high school officer will now cover all the schools in the district.The code enforcement officer was moved to non-emergency calls.

The detective bureau is understaffed, leaving three people to do the work of four.

A sergeant position was also cut.

Paso Robles Housing Authority Director Armando Corella says the loss of a patrol car monitoring the north end of town will be felt; a private security firm has been hired.

Though national studies have debated whether the D.A.R.E. program actually deters youths from drug use, Paso Robles Public Schools Superintendent Kathy McNamara said it was valuable to students.

Flamson Middle School Principal Gene Miller said: “We probably would not see any effects until a few years without it.”

During the cutbacks, the department has been aided through grants.

In the past two years, the department has applied for nearly $1 million in grant funding for equipment and special enforcement, Solomon said.

About $400,000 was awarded for some overtime projects as well as new radar equipment, bulletproof vests and special investigative equipment.

Paso Robles uses a 10-step layoff prevention plan

City officials now project the general fund will see less than $10 million in deficits over the next five years. In 2009, a report forecast a $10 million shortfall over the next three years, but a new report is now in the works.

The general fund pays for city services such as police, fire and parks. The city is using its approximately $10.5 million savings fund to buffer the losses in its six departments as it cuts expenses.

Department leaders have already made cuts to save about $35.5 million through 2015 by reducing city staff by 30 percent through attrition and retirement incentives, freezing wages through mid-2011 and discontinuing janitorial service, some landscaping and other contractual maintenance such as roadwork.

The city’s cost-cutting measures come from its 10-step layoff prevention plan, which was adopted in the early 1990s to be used when needed; it was activated Nov. 1, 2008.

The city is now at No. 8: suspension of raises. The next steps in the prevention plan include wage reductions and a three-step reduction of the full-time work force by reducing hours, mandatory furloughs and layoffs.

The city is not currently considering layoffs.