Policing the city can be lonely job

By Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate March 08, 2013 03:08 pm

Crescent City Police Officer Anthony Lopez answers a call requesting service Wednesday morning. The department has been short two officers and one detective, which leads to creative scheduling and overtime hours.
Crescent City Police Officer Anthony Lopez answers a call requesting service Wednesday morning. The department has been short two officers and one detective, which leads to creative scheduling and overtime hours. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Complex vetting process can cause delays in hiring officers 

The Crescent City Police Department has been running understaffed for the past two years, Chief Doug Plack said.

The department lost its full-time detective to retirement last June and lost two other officers about a year before that, Plack said.

A complex hiring process and a weak local economy makes it difficult to find officers wanting to take positions in Del Norte, Plack said.

“It’s difficult to attract individuals up here. It is not only difficult for police officer positions, but for any position that needs to be filled,” said Plack.

The ripple effect has caused officers to take on more of a case load and perform investigations that would normally be passed to a detective, Plack said.

Still, it has retired Detective Keith Doyle, who remained at the Police Department in a part-time reserve capacity — performing the same duties as a volunteer,  Plack said.

“If (a case) is more complex, if it is more time-consuming, I usually ask Keith to come in,” said Plack.

Reserves are required to volunteer a minimum of 16 hours a month to retain their law enforcement certification, but Doyle avails himself of more than the minimum, Plack said.

“He’s very dedicated and committed to the community,” said Plack.

The Police Department must fill the two patrol positions first before bringing on a detective, Plack said.

“The primary responsibility for a Police Department is to serve and protect the community and citizens. To do that you have to have officers on the street to respond to those calls,” said Plack.

The department currently has 11 full-time officers to handle 800 to 1,200 calls per month, Plack said.

That means having officers sacrifice days off to perform overtime duties while still dealing with budget constraints, Plack said.

Lopez stands by after turning an intoxicated man over to sheriff’s officers at the Del Norte County Jail.
Lopez stands by after turning an intoxicated man over to sheriff’s officers at the Del Norte County Jail. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
The overtime budget dropped from $70,000 for the 2010–2011 fiscal year to $50,000 during the past two. The Police Department has been able to respond to the cut; as of Dec. 31, it had spent about $25,000 of its overtime reserves, said City Manager Eugene Palazzo.

He pointed out that a shortage of officers is only one variable that depletes an overtime budget. Others include officers who work a night shift and then have to appear for a court hearing the next day, officers who make an arrest at the end of their shift, and work-related injuries to officers requiring someone else to cover for them.

“They’re doing a very good job of managing the department over there,” said Palazzo.

As a result of the vacancies, Plack said he has had to shift officers to respond to front desk inquiries and constantly manipulates the schedule.

Lt. Garrett Scott and Plack have also stepped up to cover patrol shifts, and reserves other than Doyle aid where they can.

“A lot of the officers have to wear many hats to make sure the operations are running smoothly,” said Plack.

The District Attorney’s Office hasn’t seen an effect on the department’s evidence-gathering, DA Jon Alexander said.

“As far as the end product, no, I don’t think it’s affected anything,” said Alexander.

Four candidates are being vetted for the two officer positions, though the top three still must pass a comprehensive background check.

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