Fresno

Fresno cops: Staffing shortages, crime wave leave us “drowning”

As Fresno wrestles with historic violent crime, its cops are faced with a different dilemma: growing concerns about officer safety amid overwhelming demand for services and a shrinking pool of officers.

In a letter distributed to officers on Friday by the Fresno Police Officers Association, obtained by The Sun, president Brandon Wiemiller described the city’s short-handed police force as suffering a “staffing crisis.”

“The overwhelming concern from patrol [division] is that continued operation below minimum staffing has created officer safety issues and severe burnout,” Wiemiller’s letter reads.

Wiemiller noted that what were once extraordinary measures to maintain staffing levels in a particular policing district – loaning officers or calling officers back on to cover a half-shift – have quickly become routine.

“Unexpected 15-hour shifts are manageable when they are the exception, but are unbearable when they become the norm,” he wrote.

He also noted that Fresno Police have utilized half-shifts as an accounting trick to meet the department’s minimum staffing levels.

“Officers called back for half of a shift are counted toward minimum staffing, sometimes leaving shifts far below minimum staffing once the ‘half-bodies’ log off,” he said.

The growing police shortage, Wiemiller added, is only fueling Fresno’s historic crime wave.

“A lack of sufficient officers also contributes to higher crime rates,” he said. “This rise in crime only further burdens patrol, creating a cycle that snowballs on itself.”

The union and Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama reached an agreement establishing a mandatory overtime program in the hopes of restoring staffing and scheduling stability to what has been described as an oft-chaotic staffing crunch.

With officers unable, or perhaps more aptly, unwilling to take voluntary overtime opportunities, the mandatory program brings all officers onto the same playing field and compels additional time patrolling the state’s fifth-largest city.

As part of the deal, Fresno Police is shoring up its staffing levels via the mandatory overtime program by simultaneously eliminating its use of half shifts to meet minimum staffing levels and reducing the loaning of officers between police districts.

But long-term concerns still reign beyond the institution of a mandatory overtime program: Fresno and other California police departments are engaged in hotly-contested recruitment battles over an ever-shrinking pool of cadets exiting local police academies.

Read the letter

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.