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Michael Josephson: Fresno police staffing needs to return to 2008 levels

Michael Josephson
Michael Josephson Josephson Institute of Ethics

As the author of the Josephson Institute’s Assessment of the Fresno Police Department report, I would like correct an inference in The Fresno Bee article about the report and point out certain aspects of our findings that present a fuller understanding of our findings.

Our report revealed wide and deep cynicism, including the view of many that department leaders “already know all they need to know, but are unwilling to make the changes necessary to restore trust and morale.” The Bee’s article about the report, however, seems to imply that the Josephson Institute endorsed this opinion as a true reflection of willingness of Police Chief Jerry Dyer to make necessary changes.

To the contrary, the independence granted the institute in designing the survey and formulating its often discomforting findings manifested the sincerity of statements made to us by Chief Dyer that he wanted, and was willing to deal with, the truth. This commitment was demonstrated by a number of immediate policy changes (some noted in the article) and a decision to subject the entire department to half-day training sessions, largely devoted to developing action plans to improve the culture and morale of the department.

Though there is plenty of bad news in the 93-page report including the low level of morale, it would be a disservice to the department to ignore the finding that, “Despite all the negativity reported below, most employees (71 percent of sworn and 75 percent of civilian employees) are proud to be a part of FPD.”

Similarly, I think it is worth pointing out the following finding: “It is remarkable that despite the massive reduction in force and major wage concessions resulting from the city budget crisis commencing in 2008, the FPD has generally been able to provide adequate and, in some cases, excellent service.”

There are aspects of the report that could justify criticism of leadership, but I fear the following vitally important findings regarding the causes and solutions might be lost in an outbreak of individual blame throwing:

▪ The FPD suffers from a severe and persistent problem of wholly inadequate staffing (especially in the patrol and all civilian units) that impedes and may prevent the FPD from successfully addressing the many serious and severe morale, servicing and integrity issues identified in this report.

▪ Inadequate staffing has caused inconsistent and sometimes inadequate community service, wide and deep discontent, errors, lapses in judgment due to fatigue, forced overtime and an inability of a majority of employees to maintain a proper work-life balance. This problem is a critical vulnerability. If it is not solved, the effectiveness of the FPD is likely to deteriorate and the city will be subjected to additional scandals and lawsuits.

▪ In the face of inadequate staffing, it is improbable that even the most brilliant leadership and intelligent restructuring efforts will be able to ameliorate the substantial array of deficiencies and personnel problems outlined in this report, including low morale, a negative culture, overwork and behavioral problems that are undermining community service and subjecting the department to discrediting misconduct.

To be sure, the problems described in our report can be ameliorated by leadership actions such as those already undertaken and planned, but they can only be solved by immediate and substantial funding that permits the department to return to or near 2008 levels.

Despite very real and difficult budgetary problems, the ultimate responsibility for improving service and restoring the department’s internal and external credibility lies in the hands of the Fresno City Council.

The report was not insensitive to the huge financial challenges faced by the city but, as stated in the report, “The simple fact is that if it does not find a way to provide adequate resources to the FDP, there is a substantial risk that citizen service will deteriorate and incidents of misconduct will increase.”

Michael Josephson is president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, which is based in Playa del Rey.