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Stockton Police reduces partnerships with FBI, schools as department bleeds officers, union says

Only one detective is assigned to follow up on all misdemeanor cases as the Stockton Police Department faces a deficit of 120 officers.

STOCKTON, Calif. — As gunshots rang out Thursday night in Stockton's Sierra Vista neighborhood, officers scrambled from across the city to respond to the southside housing projects — a departure from years-old precedent which gave the area its own dedicated officer.

According to Patrick High, the president of the Stockton Police Officers Association, the position is now eliminated as the Stockton Police Department puts a band-aid on its patrol division to keep basic police response up and running amid a critical staffing shortage.

After the gunfire stopped on Tiffany Street Thursday, officers arrived at the scene near Van Buren Elementary School to find a man dead and two others injured, one of whom later died.

No shooters were arrested.

"The community is now struggling to recover from violent crime and will have to do so without the support of a dedicated HUD (housing and urban development) officer," said High in his letter posted to Facebook Tuesday. "These officers were a trusted resource in those communities for decades, and the positive relationships with the residents created a partnership that reduced crime. Those positions were eliminated."

Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden confirmed the recent staffing adjustments in a statement Wednesday, adding he made the final decision.

"In late August and early September 2022, the Police Department Command and Executive teams convened to determine how best to reallocate officers in special assignments back to Patrol to bolster our ability to respond to calls for service: the core function of police departments," the statement said. "Adjusting staff from special assignments to patrol was not taken lightly. It was a hard, and lengthy discourse with the community, officer safety, and employee morale in mind."

The adjustments included eliminating bicycle officers altogether, cutting detectives from general and family crimes, and reducing the number of officers assigned to schools, homeless outreach, community policing and federal partnerships such as with the FBI.

Only one detective is now assigned to follow up on all misdemeanor criminal cases city-wide.

"These close relationships served to bring tools and resources not readily available to our agency," wrote High. "These resources are instrumental in large investigations that take down criminal organizations like Operation Blood Line, Operation Hybrid Havoc, Operation Criptonyte, and many more. Federal partnerships also assist SPD in solving complex cases like the recent serial killer."

Both High and McFadden say the local staffing crisis is connected to a nationwide officer shortage.

"Policing has become an unfavorable career choice due to the attention of police misconduct in other areas and the sacrifice required to be a police officer," said McFadden. "Recruiting is becoming harder for agencies across America."

A report from the Associated Press found departments across the nation are scrambling to recruit employees in a tight labor market caused by officers worn out by the pandemic and calls to divest from policing.

But, according to High, the problem is more acute in Stockton due to factors such as increased personal risk and other local agencies poaching officers from the ranks of the Stockton Police Department.

"Stockton fell under a vicious attack. Recruiters from surrounding agencies started coming for Stockton Officers and taking them by the dozen," said High. "Elk Grove has taken and continues to take from our ranks staffing an entire shift with former Stockton Officers - informally dubbed 'The Stockton Watch.' They do this by offering more career advancement, better financial incentives, along with a lesser workload."

The issue of salaries came up when the city and police union reached a stalemate on a new contract in June. Ultimately, the parties agreed to a 9.8% base pay increase in addition to bonuses and an increased health care contribution.

Yet, according to High, the staffing crisis persists.

"Currently, 30 officers are retirement eligible and could leave at any moment," said High. "Overwhelmingly officers are choosing to work at agencies where the workload is less, the personal risk is lower, and the compensation is higher."

With a deficit of 120 officers or nearly 25% of the department's allotted staff, McFadden says his department's priority remains showing up when the community calls.

He adds the department is still a member of eight federal, state and local partnerships aimed at solving and preventing crime in the region.

"We will continue to lean on our local, state, and federal agencies more when we need help," said McFadden. "All of which provide resources that help address crime in Stockton. We will continue to lean on these task forces and relationships to ensure every resource available will be requested to aid our Department and City."

For High, eyes are on a grim future as census data shows Stockton's population on a steady increase.

"The city continues to grow in population, and square mileage as housing developments across the city grow. Unfortunately, at the same time, the police department has shrunk in staffing," said High. "This staffing crisis is now at a critical point."

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