ANTIOCH – “How low do we have to go?”
That was Councilmember Mike Barbanica’s question for Acting Antioch Police Chief Joe Vigil about requesting outside agencies to assist, knowing how depleted the force is.
Vigil told the council this week that of 95 police officers on the books, only 44 are working in “full service” now, and of those, only 31 are assigned to patrol.
Another 51 officers are either on light duty, on medical leave, adminstrative leave or out for other reasons. It is unclear how many are on leave due to the racist texting scandal, the investigation of which is still underway with outside investigators.
The department meanwhile is authorized for 115 officers, with the ability to overhire six in anticipation of pending retirements or resignation and to help limit lapses in police services. Six new officers came aboard this week, but still need to go through field training, Vigil said.
“My concern is we’re drastically understaffed,” Barbanica said, adding he was concerned for the community and the officers’ safety.
Vigil, acting police chief for only two months, delivered the grim news in a report on staffing and crime, the first in many months. In the last report in early April, 62 officers “were able to report for full duty” and 99 full-time officers were on staff, according to then-Acting City Manager Forrest Ebbs.
In response to Barbanica’s questions on operations, Vigil said the department is running a modified work schedule of two 12.5-hour shifts a day, with three days on, three days off and a payback day every other Saturday. Officers average 100 calls per shift, or seven an hour when four are on duty on a given day, he said.
“The reality is they’re running calls all day long,” he said.
Vigil clarified that the crews run at a minimum four officers.
“For the most part, we’re trying to get people to come in and we’ve modified and moved people around,” he said, noting officers can even work overtime for part of a shift to help in the peak afternoon, early evening and late-night hours.”
The seven investigators also are handling about 300 cases, and the department is expected to lose three of them in October, Vigil said.
Barbanica, a former Pittsburg police officer, again expressed his concern.
“We’re going to have burnout not only with our officers, we’re going to continue to lose officers going to other places where they don’t have to work overtime every day and not 115,000 people with four people policing the city for a 12-hour period,” he said. “I just think that is absolutely ludicrous.”
Barbanica asked the acting chief if the city needs to bring in CHP to assist.
“It is a possibility and the conversations we have had with the CHP and the Sheriffs Department, it was made clear to us that there is no assistance made available to us right now outside of a mutual aid agreement, which is clearly outlined in the county’s mutual aid agreement,” Vigil said.
Barbanica, though, said he’d spoken to Sheriff David Livingston and he said he was ready to assist in an emergency situation. Assemblyman Tim Grayson also assured him Antioch could get help, but Vigil said he had been told a different story.
“We are literally half, minus 10 in investigations, we are zero in traffic, zero in any type of street team and four people working the street at any given time,” Barbanica said. “I don’t know how much lower we can go on this. If this is not a time to get mutual aid, and if this is not a time to bring in CHP or the sheriff to help out, what is that number?”
Vigil said it depends on the call volume, but agreed more conversations were needed to sort out any possible agreements to fill in the gaps.
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As for beats, Vigil said that in the past there were seven full beats, but now there are no traffic, street or gang units, noting the latter was an ancillary beat.
Mayor Pro-Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker asked why there was no traffic beat, but Vigil explained the remaining officers got absorbed into patrol six months ago.
“I think what Torres-Walker was asking is why was the traffic unit impacted,” Mayor Lamar Thorpe said, pointing to the racist text messaging scandal that has impacted the department.
Torres-Walker admitted she was asking questions the acting chief could not answer.
“I just think it’s ridiculous,” she said. “We all know why the numbers are low. It’s because the standards for over two decades for policing in this city has been low. That is why the numbers are low. That is to no fault of your own.”
Torres-Walker also noted that it was “very telling” that the acting chief and councilman had gotten mixed messages from other agencies.
“I hope you know you all can come back to us with some clear answers (about the miscommunication) and how to move forward based on what we feel the needs might be,” she said.