STOCKTON, Calif. — Sitting in his Downtown Stockton office overlooking the city behind him, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones continues chipping away at the list of items still left to work on ahead of his retirement at the end of 2021.
"It still hasn't fully soaked in," Jones said during a sit-down interview with ABC10. "Every day as my time winds down, I'm just staying busy, still working."
Jones has led the Stockton Police Department as its 49th Chief of Police for the past decade. He got his start as a police officer with the department in 1993, eventually working his way up the ranks to Assistant Chief. In March of 2012, Jones was sworn in as Chief of Police.
"I grew up through the ranks here at Stockton Police Department," Jones said. "When I did take over as police chief in March of 2012, that was a very difficult time for our department, for our community."
The same year Jones started as chief, ending the department's revolving door of police chiefs, the city of Stockton would enter bankruptcy with crime on a steep rise.
One of Jones' solutions to the record-breaking year of homicides and overall crime was the creation of a community response team (CRT). The team, which is still active and responsible for arrests each day, sought to tackle violence by devising teams to meet with neighbors and conduct enforcement in areas deemed to be hot-spots.
"Right before I formed CRT, we had no real proactive units, we were just candidly, we were 911 responders." Jones said.
Some of the work by the Community Response Team, which Jones says is still needed in the city a decade after its inception, includes the use of undercover officers.
"That team really has to be meeting with community members to ensure they're taking as balanced of approach as possible," Jones said.
The city's bankruptcy was simultaneously met with soaring crime, and in the fight between budgeting and increasing police staffing, budgeting won.
"We had some very low staffing, some of the lowest staffing numbers we'd had," Jones said, reflecting on what would become one of his first and most challenging years in office. "What helped me get through it is the department, we were very resilient. You know, my command team and others really rallied together."
As the city exited bankruptcy and more funding was made available through the city's Measure A, which increased sales tax to support law enforcement, new positions were created.
"We did build them up, over 100 additional officer positions over the last decade," Jones said. "Even that number is not enough to get Stockton what it really deserves. But I do understand that especially when the city goes through bankruptcy, there's only so much funding there."
As Chief Jones prepares to retire, it's the department's staffing levels now which trouble him.
"I'm beginning to get a little concerned with our staffing numbers, again, because we're seeing a lot of retirements," Jones said. "We've got that attrition, leaving out the back door of our police department. And we're having difficulty, really just in law enforcement in general, but especially here, getting folks interested in wanting to be police officers."
During his tenure, Jones has faced controversies surrounding officer involved shootings and cases of excessive use of force. Just months ago, two police officers were fired then indicted for allegedly assaulting a Stockton teen during an arrest. Jones also oversaw the department when police bullets killed Misty Holt-Singh, used as a hostage and shield by bank robbers in 2014.
"We're always looking at what we could have done better, maybe look at new practices and policies," Jones said.
Chief Jones says his message to the community is to continue to support the Stockton Police Department.
"To the community, I'd say also stay involved and get involved. Whether it be through mentoring youth, whether it be to support, through the Support Stockton Police Foundation, or be involved in a neighborhood watch group," Jones said. "We need everybody's hands on deck for this thing called shared public safety. It's a lot of work. But it requires all of us working together."
When it comes to his next endeavor, Jones is still undecided.
"I would like to stay involved. Involved, whether it be with, you know, staying within the criminal justice and, policies and best practices realm. What that looks like, exactly, I'm not sure yet."
Assistant Chief James Chraska will take over as interim Police Chief until a new chief is appointed by Stockton City Manager Harry Black. As Jones steps out of his Weber Avenue office for the last time later this week, he anticipates it will be emotional but looks optimistically towards his own future and that of his department.
"I'm sure it'll be back to that bittersweet thing," Jones said. "Which is, it's time for me to go, to move on to my next chapter. But I'll definitely miss the job."
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