Hiring and retaining police officers to work the streets continues to be a problem local officials are struggling to overcome.
The Colusa City Council said they are not sure what they can do about a police officer shortage, but they hope to address some of the issues facing the Colusa Police Department over the next few months.
“We need to keep talking about this,” said Mayor Greg Ponciano. “We have to find out what the cause is and then try to figure out if there is anything we can do about it. Just understanding the causes doesn’t mean we can change the trend, but at least we would have done our due diligence to try and find out what the issue is.”
Officials believe police officers leaving their training grounds for better benefits and pay once they have “their feet wet” is the primary reason for lack of officer retention at small agencies.
“The last two officers left for higher pay and more benefits, and they don’t have to go too far to get it,” said Colusa Police Chief Josh Fitch.
Fitch said his department also lacks an ability to provide police officers with special assignments and other opportunities for advancement.
“We tried a K9 Unit and we couldn’t keep that going,” he said.
With fewer people going in to law enforcement (a national trend) applicants who want to work in Colusa is at an all time low, as is the number of people who can pass background checks, officials said.
Fitch said that is not uncommon – when there is just a small pool of applicants to begin with – for an agency to lose all its prospects in the background check process.
“Back in the 1990s you can get 25 applicants for a position,” Fitch said. “Now I’m lucky to get five. It’s a problem everywhere you go. Some of the lead agencies give hiring bonuses or pay a lot, so of course they will get more (applicants).”
Councilman Dave Markss said he has confidence that City Manager Jesse Cain and Fitch can work on the problem together.
The city is talking about expanding a police officer cadet program in which the city will groom, mentor and help transition local youth into the police academy in the hope that they will return to Colusa for their law enforcement career.
“I think we need to keep locals in the pipeline,” Markss said.
Even with a cadet program, the city expects to continue having a high turnover of police officers due to better opportunities for police officers elsewhere, officials said.
“I would actually love to see the cadet program go full circle and see how that works,” Ponciano said. “I honestly think that is going to be one of our best opportunities. Even with that said, I think it is a program that is going to have to keep moving because regardless of what we do, in respect to pay and benefits, we are still going to have a pretty good degree of turnover.”
Meanwhile, the City of Williams has its own issues with its police department, which is embroiled in an internal investigation.
Two officers and two from the command staff are still out on administrative leave, which has prompted citizens to encourage city officials to consider disbanding the city police department and contacting with the Colusa County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services.
“I know it has been working very, very well up in Glenn County with the Glenn County Sheriff and the city of Willows,” resident Don Parsons told the Williams City Council at their February meeting. “
In May of 2017, after multiple town hall meetings by both agencies, the Glenn County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to approve a five-year contract with Willows for the county to provide law enforcement coverage.
Most agreed it was the best decision for the citizens, although bittersweet for sentimental reasons.
The Willows Police Department disbanded June 30, 2017, with the Sheriff’s Office absorbing all nine Willows police officers.
Parsons said the residents he has talked to in Colusa County’s neighbor to the north said they have been very happy with the coverage that they receive, and that he believes Williams should make the same decision to disband.
“Not only would it save us citizens vast amounts of money, but it would also give us better protection in lieu of what is going on now currently with the police department,” Parsons said.
Like Colusa, Williams has a large turnover of officers who leave for various reasons, including higher pay at neighboring agencies or dissatisfaction with the position.
“I think maybe right now is the opportune time to look into this,” Parsons said. “It would be a significant savings to this city and to the taxpayers.” ■