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Paso Robles Police Department proposes hiring more police personnel to meet community needs 

The Paso Robles Police Department is the second largest municipal police department in San Luis Obispo County, but a recent analysis recommends that the department expand by 24 officers in order to keep up with its community.

In June 2018, the Paso Robles Police Department initiated strategic planning to guide the department's planning, decision making, and initiatives over the next three years.

Ty Lewis, the police chief who replaced former Chief Robert Burton in March 2018, said a department steering committee spent eight months identifying and interviewing internal and external stakeholders to create the plan. Stakeholders included City Council members, city staff, Latino advocacy groups, senior community members, the chamber of commerce, homeless advocacy groups, public safety partners, schools, and the Hoteliers Association.

The committee came up with seven strategic goals: building trust within the community, addressing crime and traffic safety, improving communication, building trust through team development, improving service delivery, increasing staffing, and upgrading technology.

But in order to meet those goals, Lewis said the city would have to take a different approach when it comes to staffing the police department. New Times reached out to city staff but did not hear back before press time.

Currently, Paso Robles uses an authorized/budgeted approach to staffing. The department is allowed to hire based on what the city can afford, as opposed to hiring based on community need.

In order to guide staffing decisions, the city has historically relied on population ratios.

The current safety element of the city's general plan calls for 1.4 to 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents—45 to 51 police officers. According to the workload analysis report, in 2018 authorized staffing levels in Paso Robles did not meet the goals of the city's safety element, national averages, or those of other local municipalities. At the time, the department was estimated to be at 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents.

In 2018, the police department was authorized to have 51.88 employees, 35 of which were full-time police officers. But it's not so clear-cut—Lewis said there are other factors to consider, such as the increase in tourism. According to a report released in September 2018 by Paso Talks, a city-led series of community forums, the city had nearly 1.3 million visitors in 2017—458,519 day visits and 804,330 overnight visits.

The department is recommending that the city move away from ratios and instead make staffing decisions based on workload analysis. The staff report stated in 2018 that the police department handled 41,112 calls for service. In the same year, officers responded to an additional 17,987 officer-initiated events—traffic enforcement stops, investigative pedestrian contacts, or on-view criminal activity—a 20 percent increase since 2014.

Lewis said that the Paso police department has a current staffing need because it, like other departments across the state, lost employees during the past economic downturn. The department has slowly recovered since then, but it hasn't officially returned to pre-recession levels, and the workload has increased. Lewis said that because of this, the community is experiencing slower response times.

"On average it's taking us between 13 and 15 minutes to respond to calls for service. When we compare ourselves to our brothers at the fire department, they have response times that average around four minutes," Lewis said. "Oftentimes, we're pushing four times that amount before we're even getting a lot of our calls for service."

Adding more police officers to the force would allow the department to establish a community action team for the homeless and re-establish the special reinforcement teams for guns, drugs, and gangs.

He also wants to make clear that hiring more police officers also means hiring additional property and evidence technicians, dispatchers, records clerks, community services coordinators, and crime analysts.

"I don't want the community and the City Council just to solely focus on sworn staff because really it's a joint need. The department is going to grow so we're going to need all these other positions as well," Lewis said.

With community-led goals for the department and Lewis' workload analysis, the next step is figuring out the cost, which has yet to be calculated. Currently, the department's budget is about $11 million, and in order to hire additional officers, Lewis said the increased budget could be comparable to the San Luis Obispo Police Department's allocated budget of $16 million.

On April 16, the City Council accepted the Paso Police Department's report and directed staff to schedule future community workshops to discuss staffing options.

"For us, it's really an opportunity to show the community what we do, how busy we are, and do you want to do a better job of safeguarding and protecting what we all value: that small-town charm here in Paso Robles," Lewis said. "And if so, here are the resources we need." Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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