The Hollister Police Department has been understaffed for years,
according to Hollister’s police chief, but budget cuts, injuries
and resignations have recently forced the remaining officers to
sometimes work 18-hour days and abandon their regular duties to
increase patrols in the city.
Hollister – The Hollister Police Department has been understaffed for years, according to Hollister’s police chief, but budget cuts, injuries and resignations have recently forced the remaining officers to sometimes work 18-hour days and abandon their regular duties to increase patrols in the city.
The department currently has three officers on the injured list, two on pregnancy disability, two vacant positions and one officer that just tendered their resignation – reducing the department to 21 able-bodied officers available to patrol Hollister’s streets, said Police Chief Jeff Miller.
Depending on the time of day and day of week, a minimum of three officers and one supervising sergeant patrol the streets, but sometimes the police presence shrinks to only two officers on patrol and one sergeant protecting a population of more than 37,000 people, Miller said.
To supplement the depleted force, Miller has taken the officer assigned to the Unified Narcotics Enforcement Team off that squad temporarily and put him back on patrol. He also has two detectives picking up patrol shifts once a week – cutting into their time to investigate the hundreds of backed up cases sitting at the police department, he said. In especially tight situations, even the two captains are put on patrol at times to cover for absences, he said.
The department has also began juggling schedules to keep as many officers on the street as possible, but the limited manpower available results in long days for the relatively few police officers. While Miller doesn’t like his officers to work more than 12-hours per shift, there are times when they clock in up to 16 and 18 hour days and then get up the next day and do it again.
“That’s a long day and sometimes the nature of police work puts you in that position,” he said. “This department has been traditionally understaffed… but before they were eking by. We’re not eking by anymore. It’s scraping and clawing to do what we can. It’s finally caught up and come crashing down on us.”
Miller expects some of the officers out on injuries and pregnancy leave to be back soon and hopes to fill the vacancies as soon as possible. But even so, he doesn’t have any quick fixes to the ongoing problem.
“It brings back the dreaded ‘T’ word – utility tax, parcel tax, sales tax,” Miller said. “People need to examine their priorities, because something needs to be done. I don’t know to what extent people realize it’s a problem.”
Despite staffing shortages, overall crime in Hollister decreased over the past year except for rape, according to police department statistics. Miller attributed the decrease to officers concentrating on making more traffic stops and concentrating on the city’s gang and drug problem.
And, juggling shifts is getting the job done for the time being, but until more money starts filtering into the city, Miller said he understands that the city council is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“It’s not a matter of the city council not being aware,” he said. “They’ve indicated they don’t know where the money’s going to come from. That’s a tough place to be in.”
City Councilman Brad Pike sympathizes with the police department’s plight and said if Hollister’s leaders don’t start thinking outside of the box on ways to bring in revenue, police officer and public safety is at risk.
“Do people know there’s only two or three people protecting their city at night? I don’t think so. It’s going to come down to someone’s going to get seriously injured if we don’t help them out,” Pike said. “We can’t say no from here on out for everything that comes into the community – whether it’s new developments, a casino, new corporations. We’re going to have to get out there and invite business into the community. I’m appalled we’ve put ourselves in this position.”
Pike suggested allowing the airport to develop, allowing business to come in and utilize storage tank facilities before the moratorium is lifted, and even using Hollister as a pilot program for alternative energy to pad the city’s drowning budget.
“There’s opportunities and I think the state would be willing to support those kinds of things. I don’t know why Hollister can’t be a beacon in our little valley,” he said. “We’ve got to turn a corner here.”
Because of Miller’s creative scheduling techniques, the chief said that while officers are receiving some overtime, he doesn’t believe the department will exceed its overtime budget this year. In year’s past the department didn’t fund a realistic overtime budget and funds were greatly exceeded, but this year’s $300,000 should be adequate, he said.
Although the department has always been shorthanded, long-time veteran Sgt. Ray Wood said the size of the department now is about the same size as it was 10 years ago, although the community’s population has grown considerably.
Less people means that about 75 percent of the time officers can expect to work longer than a 12-hour shift, which can have adverse affects on their concentration and focus.
“How can you stay focused when you’re going to a domestic or a drunk driver and you know you don’t have a back up?” Wood said. “There’s no such thing as multiple officers going to a call. They just get tired. Their senses aren’t as good as they should be and they make mistakes.”
Keeping a positive attitude in an area where surrounding cities such as Gilroy and Watsonville have almost double the officers with a similar populations is also difficult, especially when most of the public isn’t aware of the problem, Wood said.
“They see police officers patrolling the streets. When they call, a police officer shows up to take a report. They see the blotter. They see people getting arrested – and as long as that’s happening I think the community thinks we’re OK,” he said. “And we’re not.”
Erin Musgrave covers public safety for the Free Lance. Reach her at 637-5566, ext. 336 or [email protected]