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Fresno police’s $167 million budget would put more officers on patrol

New Fresno Police officers are sworn in during a February 2016 ceremony at Fresno City Hall. The police department’s 2016-17 budget includes money to bolster the number of sworn officers on the force to 801 by early 2017.
New Fresno Police officers are sworn in during a February 2016 ceremony at Fresno City Hall. The police department’s 2016-17 budget includes money to bolster the number of sworn officers on the force to 801 by early 2017. jwalker@fresnobee.com

The Fresno Police Department accounts for almost $167 million in spending and more than 1,000 employees in the city’s proposed 2016-17 budget – the single largest department covered by the general fund.

The Police Department’s plans came under scrutiny and drew praise from City Council members Tuesday during a hearing on the budget, which is continuing a rebuilding process after the recession that gripped the city in the late 2000s, forcing major cuts and staff reductions.

Within the Fresno Police Department’s proposed $166.8 million budget are plans for a restructuring that Chief Jerry Dyer said would bring the number of sworn police officers on the force to 801 by early 2017, including about 335 who will be dedicated to patrol units. It also would restore the department’s Central Police District, which will be housed at the Manchester Center shopping center.

It represents a $5.4 million increase over the department’s 2015-16 budget.

“This proposed budget is a very healthy one for the Police Department because of the hiring of 26 officers that will take us to 801 officers,” Dyer told the council.

Once all the positions are filled, that would put the department’s staffing within a stone’s throw of its peak staffing of 837 officers in the pre-recession days.

“By January, we will have 100 more officers assigned to patrol than last year,” he said.

Dyer said that shifting officers to patrol from some other units, including nighttime traffic enforcement, and reopening the Central district, will improve response times across the city, because it will shrink the size of the remaining four policing districts: northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast.

(Residents will) see reduced response times to both in-progress crimes as well as life-threatening calls. They’re going to see a great deal more engagement by officers with the citizens within those neighborhoods.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer

Additionally, the department would be placing officers at each of the city’s middle schools, bolstering the police presence that already exists at each of the high schools in Fresno.

“Residents in those neighborhoods are going to see a substantial increase in officers,” Dyer told The Bee. “They’re going to see reduced response times to both in-progress crimes as well as life-threatening calls. They’re going to see a great deal more engagement by officers with the citizens within those neighborhoods.”

Responding to the public’s demand for more patrol officers, however, will mean some trade-offs. Among officers who would be shifting duties to patrol are 23 nighttime traffic-enforcement officers as well as members of the Violent Crime Impact Team, as the reorganization takes effect in August or September. Ten officers would return to traffic duty next spring.

“But over time, this is going to be a big benefit to our community and a tremendous investment,” Dyer said.

The Central Police District had for years been housed in a former fire station in central Fresno’s eclectic Tower District. But that office was closed in 2011 by budget cuts. By the time budgets had recovered enough to consider restoring the district, the aging and outdated building was deemed unfit for use by the department.

Tower District denizens, however, continue to clamor for a return of some police presence.

“They want to string us up because we won’t put the station back there,” said Councilman Oliver Baines, a former police officer who represents southwest Fresno. “But that’s not a suitable place for a station.”

Baines is asking to add $25,000 to the budget to establish a small satellite police station in the Tower District where officers can write reports or a community service officer can be stationed to provide police access for the neighborhood.

(Tower District residents) want to string us up because we won’t put the station back there. But that’s not a suitable place for a station.

Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines

Council President Paul Caprioglio, whose district includes east-central Fresno, also asked for $25,000 for a police substation at Stone Soup Fresno, a community service nonprofit in the El Dorado Park neighborhood – also known as “Sin City” – west of Fresno State.

Also on Tuesday, the council examined the proposed $67.6 million budget of Fresno’s other major public safety agency, the Fire Department. Like the police department, Chief Kerri Donis’ department is also rebuilding from budget cuts in recent years. The budget’s $5.5 million increase over the 2015-16 budget would enable the department to add 12 firefighter positions – enough to create a new four-member truck company within the city.

The fire budget also would continue an ongoing eight-year program of replacing aging fire vehicles. Three new fire engines, one new fire truck, three SUVs and five light-duty pickups are included in the proposed budget.

While public safety departments are an oft-declared priority of council members, some residents from the southern areas of the city implored the council to be mindful of needs for more parks in their neighborhoods, as well as better maintenance of parks already there. The parks/recreation/

community services department is earmarked for about $27.3 million this year, a modest increase of about $225,000 over the 2015-16 budget.

The parks budget includes just over $1 million to cover the cost of a joint-use program for 16 middle and high school campuses in the Fresno and Central unified school districts that will be open to the public on weekends. The parks department will operate organized recreation programs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, but the playgrounds and fields will also be available for casual family use and picnicking.

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