David Grieder, The Triplicate

The Crescent City Police Department is scrambling to cope with what the police officer's union calls a near-crisis level staff shortage in coming weeks as officers leave for better-paying jobs with other agencies.

Effective April 30, Crescent City police will lose one sergeant to the Del Norte District Attorney's Office and a senior officer to the Del Norte Sheriff's Office (DNSO). Both individuals accepted positions with the other agencies earlier this year and submitted their notice Friday, according to Chief Ivan Minsal.

"It's going to be a little tight. The wages and benefits aren't real attractive when you compare them to other communities when it comes to law enforcement," said Minsal. "Our city council is understanding the problem and they are working toward trying to fix this, trying to get us back into some kind of competitive market so we can attract people who want to come to Crescent City."

As of May 1, the department will be down to 58 percent of its

allotted staffing. Of 12 positions provided in their budget, all those

remaining will be Minsal, one sergeant, and five officers, according to a

press release from the Crescent City Police Officer's Association.

Minsal said Friday the department was already "down a couple bodies"

when he took office in March 2015. He hired an additional officer soon

after, bringing the staff up to 11 sworn positions by October 2015, when

bargaining for the next employment contract between Crescent City and

the CCPOA commenced, said a lawyer spokesman.

But in January, one officer left for DNSO, then another applied for a

position with the California Highway Patrol. Two others are on their

way out right now, and CCPOA spokesman John Noble said another two

officers have applied for positions with other law enforcement agencies

in the state.

Even if the last two stick around, CCPOA will still be left with what

Noble calls the "nearly impossible task" of keeping the peace with a

reduced staff in Crescent City during the fast-approaching busy summer

months.

Noble encourages the city to "quickly negotiate a successor

collective bargaining agreement with the CCPOA, which provides a pay

and benefit package competitive with the labor market for sworn law

enforcement personnel in Northern California jurisdictions."

In what could be an early step to address that request, the city has

enlisted an independent agency to conduct a classification study

intended to "objectively determine where we stand relative to other

cities," according to City Council member Rick Holley.

Results are expected in the next month and will compare salaries of

CCPD positions with those of similar job descriptions and comparable

jurisdictions.

The hunch of many is that CCPD pays disproportionately less, not only

relative to other Del Norte agencies but also to police departments in

similar cities. Minsal said he believed the hourly starting rate of his

officers could be among the lowest in the state - $17 per hour relative

to a state average of $28 per hour.

"Understandably the police department employees are concerned about

this," said Holley. "We are all anxiously awaiting the results of that

so we can see what it takes to make Crescent City more competitive."

Results of the study will likely influence negotiations between the

city and the police officer's union, which aims to settle on an updated

Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) before July.

"Negotiations could go on for a while, but the city is moving as fast

as it can. It wants to do the right thing because this is a time where I

believe a lot of employees might be affected - not only the police

department, but all the other 50 or so employees who make up the city

family," said Minsal.

"So there's a lot on the table from the city perspective, as well as a

law enforcement perspective. My job as a chief is I'm going to do my

best to protect the city. Some of the officers, they're probably going

to work some overtime. We may be busy, but I believe with the city and

community support we'll continue to protect the city until we can get

our staffing levels back up."

City Councilor Darrin Short believes it is paramount to identify and

resolve whatever is keeping would-be staff from joining or sticking with

CCPD:

"All the city councilmen would agree that this is our first priority.

That is why government is put in place - to protect its people. So if

we come to a place after the study is completed where we find that maybe

our compensation package is comparable with the others, then we're

going to have to explore different options to make the city more

attractive."

Until more developments come, Minsal and his staff expect to get

creative, work overtime, and ask for patience and support from the

public.

"Our officers will respond. We may have to prioritize, but we will

try to get to everybody's situation as best as we can," he said. "It

will require the chief to be creative, and some services might be cut

back. I don't know which ones those would be right now. I'm still

working all that out so check with me in a couple weeks."

Minsal said the department welcomes volunteers from the community, who can assist CCPD.

"We're going to get through this. It's not going to be easy, but I

believe our community will stand tall and continue to call us when they

have a law enforcement issue," he said.

"But let's not be panicking in the streets just yet," added Short.

Reach David Grieder at dgrieder@triplicate.com

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