Members from the Pleasanton Police Department updated the City Council with its biannual report last week on topics including school police officers, "stop data" collection and the challenge of hiring new personnel.
Police Chief David Swing told the council that the fall report is designed to be programmatic in nature and that the one in the spring will focus more on crime data and statistics.
School resource officers (SROs) are police that are assigned by the city and by the Pleasanton Unified School District to help in any school-related crime or emergencies.
Part of the update on the SRO program included information about recent arrests made at schools, the implementation of the Alternate Response to Mental Health Unit and outreach efforts aimed to develop a better relationship with the students.
Swing said that in keeping with the newer diversion practices of looking for alternatives when arresting students at schools, the department referred two students to the diversion program, Horizons Family Services, out of the four arrests that were on campus this past year.
He noted that all of the arrests were made in private and not in front of other students. The other two students who were arrested were booked at Alameda County Juvenile Hall due to the seriousness of the crime on campus.
One of the main updates to the alternative response unit (ARU) since it was first implemented in January was that the unit has conducted 32 mental health evaluations for students who may have been in crisis – and of those calls, only two students were placed on a mental health hold.
"Students in crisis, this is an area where we have had much conversation over the last probably two years," Swing said. "To see the number there that two out of 32 students who were contacted for a mental health evaluation, only two were referred to an acute care facility for a 72 hour hold, is something that we should all be proud of because that is a significant win for our young people and for our students."
The unit will be hiring two clinicians from the Bonita House to be the main responders to these situations, rather than an SRO, and are expected to come on board in early November, Swing said. The Bonita House is a private nonprofit mental health agency that offers services for adults diagnosed with co-occurring psychiatric disabilities and substance use disorders.
"We know far more about the services available in the Tri-Valley than we did before we started the ARU program and so when our clinicians are on board, what our hope is, instead of the officer to respond to the schools, it will be a clinician to essentially do the same job and work with PUSD staff," PPD Capt. Kurt Schlehuber said.
The department has also established a think tank, which consists of students, PUSD staff and parents to help build those relationships by addressing things like SRO uniforms and whether or not the department should "soften" the look.
"I really liked to hear about the SRO MOU think tank ... because we do need to bridge the divide between our youth and our officers," Councilmember Jack Balch said.
Swing said that the consensus was to keep the uniforms as they are but they will continue to look for opportunities when officers can wear less formal attire while still being fully equipped with their appropriate equipment.
* Apart from the SRO program update, the council reviewed the police department's stop data collection.
Stop data allows the council and police to assess the existence of racial disparities and use the findings to acknowledge and respond appropriately to any disparities.
In 2016 then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 953 titled the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), which requires peace officers in California to collect data on all instances where a person is stopped and has been phased in during the past five years based on the number of sworn officers.
Swing said there are 16 potential data fields to fill in that ask officers to evaluate the race or ethnicity of the person being, the subject's gender identity, their mental health status, if they're unhoused and much more.
He said that PPD has been collecting stop data for more than 20 years, but the new RIPA requirements for collecting data are much greater.
One main takeaway from the stop data that Swing pointed out is that compared against the "American Community Survey", which is one of the surveys that's used to evaluate demographics of a certain community, Pleasanton's stop data does not reflect the city's community demographics.
"When I saw that, that was not at all a surprise to me," Swing said. "The reason why is because Pleasanton is fortunate to be a draw, we're a draw for people from other other communities into Pleasanton."
He said that the arrest data also doesn't mirror the community demographics.
* Another main talking point of the night was the national trend of fewer people applying to become a police officer and how that is being felt in Pleasanton.
"Part of the challenges that we're facing is that we have more openings, more vacancies and we have fewer people who are choosing this profession," Swing said. "We had two individuals who had been in the area for a while, owned homes in the area and had families that were established in the area and they chose to leave the state and to leave the profession."
Swing quoted an email he received from the Police Executive Research Forum, which stated that in 2021 there were 40% more resignations nationally than there were in 2019. He said that in 2021, PPD had about a 200% increase in resignations than in 2019.
Aside from resignations, he said that the hiring rate is also much lower than it used to be.
"Captain (Larry) Cox, who used to work in our personal training and our professional standards unit, will tell you that he used to spend a lot of time screening through applications," Swing said. "You could post a job opening for a police officer and you would have 200 applications. Recently, we posted a job opening for a police officer and I think we had about 19."
Currently, there are 83 sworn positions including three administrators, five managers, 13 supervisors and 62 officers, according to the staff report. Swing said that 13 of those positions are currently vacant either due to injury or because a new officer is training for that position.
He said that while it does take a long time to hire a new recruit -- usually about three to four months -- there are currently two officers who joined the police academy, although those new hires won't likely finish training until 10 months from now.
"I think all departments in California are suffering like we are with recruitment efforts and not being able to recruit like they should be," Vice Mayor Valerie Arkin said. "I hope maybe looking at the colleges, since I know there's a lot of college graduates that might want to consider a career in law enforcement, if they don't have a path that they have already considered that might be something that fits with them."
The shortage of officers did impact the department, according to Swing, in that the department had to enter into an overtime emergency schedule that is allowed in the department's memorandum of understanding with its police union.
That meant working a rotating three 12-1/2-hour workdays one week and four the next week schedule for three months during the summer.
"I would like to acknowledge and thank all the staff members for their efforts over the last year to maintain our response times and the level of safety that our community has come to expect," said Nick Albert, president of the Pleasanton Police Officers Association.
"However, these challenges do impact our line staff disproportionately during the emergency schedule," Albert added. "Each officer was working a 12-1/2-hour shift with a maximum of 15-1/2 hours according to the MOU, but with less than seven POA members residing in the city of Pleasanton these shifts are exaggerated by long commutes, which often exceed an hour. As you can imagine, this can easily turn a single shift interiorly into an 18-hour workday."
While the emergency schedule did allot some vacation time for the officers, Swing said that the overtime was not sustainable as it could lead to officers burning out.
City Manager Gerry Beaudin added to that sentiment saying that the goal is to have a full staff right now and to possibly over hire in the future to prepare for the housing growth in Pleasanton.
"We continue to be a growing community," Beaudin said. "We're not not the fastest growing community in California, but we will continue to see growth and that does obviously put new pressures on the resources that we have available over time. Certainly, our goal is to be fully staffed and then to look at the over hire in the near term."
Swing said that PPD is working on ways to expedite the hiring process like bringing in additional background investigators to help with background checks and establishing a full time recruitment officer.
Another way the department is looking at increasing the number of applicants is by looking at the starting salaries for new recruits to compete in a market that is seeing less applicants.
"We made some recent changes to (the starting salary) to include offering benefits to be able to hire individuals who may need benefits for their families," Swing said.
* The council approved Pleasanton PD to purchase two crime vehicles, which will be primarily used for large-scale operations.
PPD will be purchasing a command vehicle and a crime scene investigation vehicle for a total of $1,326,711, which are predicted to be delivered sometime in the summer of 2024.
According to Capt. Cox and Lt. Brandon Stocking, Pleasanton is one out of three police departments in Alameda County that do not have similar vehicles.
"I was astonished that we were only one of three cities in Alameda County not to have one of these," Councilmember Kathy Narum said. "I like to think of us as tending to be at the forefront with equipment and technology and so for us to be at the back end was, I won't say disappointing, but certainly surprising."
The command vehicle would serve as a remote command post during a wide range of incidents, special events, operations and natural disasters. It would also serve as a backup dispatch center when the department's dispatch center is inoperable.
The crime scene investigation vehicle will be smaller than the command vehicle and will include storage dedicated for equipment needed during major crime scenes and traffic collision investigations, restrooms and a backup generator for the main command vehicle.
Stocking said that this smaller vehicle will either work in tandem with the command center for its restrooms, storage and backup generator, or it will be used for separate criminal or major traffic related investigations.
The need for these vehicles first started when former city manager Nelson Fialho and former police chief David Spiller attended a Fourth of July event in 2015 that forced PPD to borrow Alameda County Sheriff's Office command vehicle.
Cox said that Fialho walked in and said Pleasanton should have one, which prompted the discussion and led to Stocking beginning research into finding one in 2019.
Since then, both Cox and Stocking pointed to a number of instances when having a command vehicle was necessary. One big example was on Sept. 3, 2020 when a body was found at the Marilyn Murphy Kane Trail.
PPD responded to the call and found a decaying body, but because they had been under contract with the ACSO Crime Lab for major crime scene investigations, they had to wait 10 hours for the equipment and evidence vehicles to arrive.
"Some best practices for processing a crime scene include that the evidence needs to be collected, packaged and documented at the scene," Stocking said. "It really shouldn't be picked up and transported off site to be packaged and documented. It should, as soon as possible, be protected from the weather and the elements and this vehicle that we're proposing would provide all that plus the storage and transportation of the equipment I mentioned before."
Narum added that, "right now, it seems like you know, not as many crimes are getting prosecuted. I'd hate to have one prosecuted and have the evidence thrown out because it's been contaminated because it's not being able to be processed under the right conditions."
Funding for these vehicles, if approved, would come out of existing and future Citizens' Option for Public Safety funds. That money goes to local municipalities from the state and is generally for motor motor vehicle licensing fees. Cities get the money based on the amount of their population.
Cox said that the department has been saving that money since 2016 and currently has about $923,170. He said because the vehicles won't be ready for another two years, PPD will continue saving and plans to have about $1.3 million by the time of delivery.
The $1,326,711 from the account will be appropriated to purchase the vehicles in the next fiscal years' budget.
The vehicles will also have to be included in the Department's list of authorized military equipment per Assembly Bill 481, which requires police departments in California to keep a running list of what is defined as military equipment for oversight by local governing bodies.