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Dyer eschews sanctuary drama, keeps focus on police expansion and engagement

Fresno as of Jan. 26 had 760 sworn police officers. The 2016-17 budget calls for 804 officers by June 30.

“We’ll get there,” Dyer said, thanks to Police Academy graduates and hires from other agencies.

Mayor Brand on the campaign trail promised to boost the force by 2024 to 1,000 officers.

Officer retention will be pivotal to keeping the promise, Dyer said. That and lots of money.

“It does you very little good to continue to have mass hirings if you have officers leaving,” Dyer said. “The other part of it is going to be the financial piece. The mayor is committed to getting our department to 1,000 police officers over eight years. My job is twofold.

“One is to help him do that without negatively impacting the general fund. We’ll be seeking out grants, finding ways we can get police officers funded. But it is going to impact the general fund. We know that. It’s going to require the setting of priorities at City Hall.

“The other part of it is taking those officers we do hire and using them in a manner that is consistent with the mayor’s vision. Fortunately, his vision and my vision are very consistent when it comes to public safety. That is making sure we’re heavily involved in community policing with those officers. And that means having a sufficient number of officers out in the field to where they’re freed up and they can be involved in community issues and engaged in problem solving – and not simply going from call to call to call. Which is what we sometimes end up with.”

The department a year ago had 235 officers on patrol. There now are 325 officers on patrol. This shift of personnel meant the downsizing of investigative units such as sexual assault and homicide. The growth of staffing must lead to a replenishment of those units, Dyer said.

“It’s really a balanced approach,” Dyer said. “I know it’s popular just to put officers in a uniform and put them on the streets. We need that. But we have to be careful. Because if we just do that, we’re not fulfilling all the requirements we have on our job.”

I asked about possible changes in the relationship between a new presidential administration and local police departments, including Fresno’s.

“I’ve always seen the responsibility of policing local communities to be best determined by that local police department and the community in which they serve, regardless of who is the president of the United States or the governor of the state of California,” Dyer said.

“What’s most important in determining how policing occurs in your community is who the mayor is and who the police chief is. There are impacts that will occur from things that are done or said outside of Fresno, whether that is at the state level or in Washington, D.C. But those things shouldn’t change your style of policing.

“Our foundation in policing is building community trust. There should be nothing that we allow to be done out of Washington, D.C. or the state capital that is going to cause us to interfere with that trust.”

Dyer brought the big issue of the brand new Trump era.

“I know right now there is a lot of concern over immigration – will local law enforcement be involved in any immigration enforcement?” Dyer said. “I’ve taken the approach in our department that that’s not our responsibility or goal. We have plenty of work just trying to keep up with the criminals and going after criminals and trying to keep people safe in our community and building neighborhood relationships – building relationships of trust with all segments of the community.

“I don’t see that changing in Fresno.

“But I do see a higher level of fear on the part of many of those people in the community who perhaps are undocumented – because of their uncertainty and not knowing whether or not the federal government is going to impact our style of policing. If, in fact, it is the priority of this president’s administration to reduce undocumented immigrants in communities, then what I believe needs to occur is that he should spend an incredible amount of money on additional ICE agents – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – and place them in local communities to enforce those laws. But (Trump should) not rely on local police departments to do that.

“When we start acting as an arm of the federal government in doing that, I think we’re going to lose the community in terms of trust.”

The undocumented population is one segment of the community that is Fresno. There are many others segments. Trust in the Police Department can erode among them, as well. The “Ferguson Effect” – in which cops back away from enforcing the written law for fear of being persecuted by federal lawyers with ideological bents, resulting in incessant neighborhood lawlessness and mayhem – is a powerful and proven solvent of civilization’s bonds.

“There has not been a shortage of attempts to suppress law enforcement activity in the state and in the nation,” Dyer told me. “There are the laws that have been passed that ultimately tie the hands of police officers and the constant threats of the United States Department of Justice to come in and do some type of a consent decree on our agency. There’s no shortage of it. We’ve seen it in Oakland and Los Angeles and across this nation.

“We’ve been fortunate – I like to think because we’re a good police department – that that’s never even been a conversation (for Fresno). But I do know it has a chilling effect on law enforcement when there is that constant hammer looming over law enforcement agencies by the United States Department of Justice.

“What I do believe is happening with the Trump Administration is that you’re going to see that chilling effect warm up. Law enforcement across this nation is going to feel more supported, and therefore they’re going to go out and do a better job of keeping citizens safe.

“Some may say law enforcement might interpret that as a green light to go out and abuse people’s rights. I don’t believe so. I believe the effect that it’s going to have is causing law enforcement to feel supported and give them the confidence that they know they can go out there and do their job – and to do it legally, within Constitutional parameters. I think it’s going to be a very good thing for law enforcement across this nation.

“There’s nothing worse than citizens living in the community in fear because the police officers are in fear to do their jobs.”

If only things were that simple.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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