The Pleasanton Police Department has reassigned officers in the special enforcement, crime prevention and traffic units for the time being in order to cover patrol duties due to a shortage in staff.
Pleasanton Police Chief David Swing told the Weekly the move is temporary and that while the units are not currently active, the department does plan on eventually bringing them back once they replenish their workforce.
"Agencies throughout the region, the state and even nationally are grappling with staffing challenges," Swing said. "(But) when that happens, the work still continues. Does it continue at the same level that it did when those units are more fully staffed? Absolutely not, because it can't. There's only a limited number of resources that are available."
The announcement of the three units going offline first came out of a Nextdoor post from Officer Ryan Tujague, who said that the three units were no longer available and that police calls that would have been handled through one of the three units will now be handled by patrol officers.
"For example, if a major traffic fatality were to unfortunately occur, we're still going to respond to that," Swing said. "We're still going to dedicate resources to that. Our officers that are currently assigned to traffic will likely be involved in the investigation of that event and use the resources that we have to investigate that accordingly."
He added that while enforcement of certain traffic-related issues will not be as extensive as it has been, "the critical functions of those units will still occur."
The news of the redeployment came the same week as the Pleasanton Police Officers Association (PPOA) declaring an impasse in labor talks as the city's memorandum of understanding with the union expires on Wednesday (May 31).
According to the City Manager's Office, city negotiators offered unionized police personnel raises between 15% to 18% over three years as part of its latest contract proposal, which union leaders rejected saying the pay compensation being offered is below the market average and median.
"These staffing shortages are, in turn, causing our resources to be limited, because we don't have the amount of officers that we should have, or the amount of officers that we had before," PPOA President Brian Jewell told the Weekly last week.
"I don't want to see us lose more officers. I don't want to see our resources go down," Jewell added. "I want us to be able to provide the best and highest level of service to our community."
Pleasanton Vice Mayor Jack Balch told the Weekly just hours before the PPOA announced the impasse that the city needs to work with the union to find a resolution that is down the middle and that meets the needs for both sides.
"The city has to have a sound fiscal budget so that we can continue to pay for the officer positions that we've allocated," Balch said "We cannot have any budget constraints once qualified candidates are identified, so that our city manager and chief can hire them."
He added that while the overall police industry is facing similar staffing challenges, he believes that the City Council needs to continue to show, through fiscal process and policies, the ability to continue funding officers and their needs.
"We can't keep this going," Balch said. "We have to find a solution to be able to get them their full staff because we know that they're probably doing overtime and other methods to be able to provide to the community and so the community needs to be able to work with them and support them that way."
But as the PPD begins to redeploy those officers who were assigned to one of the three temporarily disbanded units to patrol services, Swing mentioned that the decision to do so isn't something that is new to police departments.
"At different times, in different agencies, personnel are reassigned due to staffing," Swing said. "It's not the first time this has happened in Pleasanton; it's not the first time it's happened in law enforcement agencies."
He said that because of the six to seven vacancies coupled with the fact that somewhere between five and 10 officers are currently on injury leave, it is a challenge to keep extra units active when the department's main focus has to be on patrolling the city.
But he said that the entirety of the staff have been doing what they can to pick up the work.
"Our entire team at the police department are really proud of the work that they do and how they're doing the heavy lifting, to fill a critical need right now," he said. "That doesn't go unnoticed."
Swing also attempted to assure the public that apart from the emergency response time of four minutes and 19 seconds hasn't changed, any investigations that have been under the purview of units such as the special enforcement unit have been folded into other units such as the criminal investigations unit so that the investigative work can continue.
Balch touched on that issue as well and said that while having residents continue to do their part in keeping an eye out for issues in the community, they must also keep in mind that response time might be affected by the staff shortage.
"I think everyone can relate that we want the emergency response time to try to maintain and if that means that non-emergency unfortunately slips a little bit until we're able to come to full staff, I think community understanding of that would be appreciated," Balch said.
However, Swing reiterated that with the two recent homicides that took place in Pleasanton -- one of a Home Depot employee who was shot and the other of a man being stabbed in his apartment during an attempted robbery -- the quality of investigative work being done around those two cases has not been affected by the recent change in the three units.
"Are there other things that get placed on the back burner because of that, and because we don't have a full complement assigned? Absolutely," Swing said. "But the quality of our work, especially in those major cases, is not impacted by our staffing."
As for other units within the PPD being affected by staffing issues such as the school resource officers, Swing said that it really all depends on several factors.
"If we were to have a run of officers who pursued opportunities elsewhere, or who were injured on the job and unable to be deployed, it might get to the point where the school resource officers are redeployed into patrol, or our officers assigned to our alternate response unit are redeployed into patrol," Swing said.
He said while it is possible -- and not probable -- the chances of that happening really depends on whether the recruits the department currently has in the police academy and its training program can stick around until next year when they can actually fully get on the force and on the streets.
Swing also wanted to tell Pleasanton residents that regardless of whether PPD is or isn't fully staffed, it is critical that the community maintains and continues to develop relationships with police officers to ensure ongoing success.
He also said that with the department having been short-staffed for more than a year, he doesn't expect residents to see much of a difference in terms of levels of service following the announcement of the three units not being online right now.
"When the community needs us the most, we have, will and always will be there," Swing said. "If the community hasn't seen a reduction in service or felt a reduction in services, then this announcement, if you would, isn't going to change that perspective."