When it comes to police commissions, Fresno County truly is experiencing a “tale of two cities.”
Monday night, the Clovis City Council approved the formation of a citizens’ advisory meeting to evaluate funding, operations and staffing levels for the police department.
Last month, former Clovis Police Chief Matt Basgall requested that the council form such a committee – similar to the one established in 2007 – to give advice to the council as staffing levels have not grown over the last decade to match the city’s rising population.
Each councilmember will appoint five residents to the 25-member committee, which will start meeting in January.
One large focus of the committee lies in answering an important question: What is it going to take for Clovis to stay the “safest city in the Valley?”
Councilwoman Lynne Ashbeck asked: “What is it going to take? What level of safety are we interested in?”
The council expects the answer to that question may involve what Clovis residents will be willing to pay for such safety.
The city has been supporting the department more and more through funding measures over the last 10 to 15 years, but the staffing has decreased.
According to a presentation given to the council compiled by city staff, Clovis allocated $20.6 million of its general fund to the police department in 2005-2006. The 2019-2020 total came in at $38 million as the budget increased by an average of 4.6 percent each year from 2006-2020.
While the police department saw its funding nearly double over a decade and a half, the total number of police officers per 1,000 residents decreased from 1.68 in 2005-2006 to 1.4 in 2019-2020.
Councilman Bob Whalen expressed his interest in attending commission meetings to probe the topic of increased spending but lower staffing.
“How come you guys haven’t thought about why is it that we’ve given so much more percentage-wise to the police, and they don’t have any more patrol officers? That’s significant to me,” Whalen said.
“In fact, I don’t really think we get to anything else until we answer that first question.”
The committee will meet several times in the first half of next year, early enough to prepare a ballot measure for the November 2022 election that would deal with a tax to increase police staffing levels.
The council’s decision to have an advisory committee evaluate police department funding and staffing tells a different tale than the city’s neighbor to the west: Fresno.
Last year, the City of Fresno formed its own commission focused on an entirely topic: reforming the police department in the wake of civil unrest and demonstrations across the nation following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Fresno’s resulting commission recommended 73 reforms to the Fresno City Council, and the Fresno Police Department announced last week that 16 of them have been implemented, such as refraining from using physical force until no other alternatives are available and that deadly force should only be used to protect human life.