Friday, September 2, 2005

Suisun City Council to seek solutions to officer shortage

From Daily Republic // Sept. 2, 2005

By Ian Thompson
SUISUN CITY - Suisun City's thin blue line has never been more fragile.

Due to a mix of retirements, officers leaving for other jobs, an injury and pregnancies, the department that had 22 sworn officers is putting three officers on the street each of the two shifts the department pulls.

Some officers have worked 14 days at a time and some pulled 20 hours on duty, according to Suisun City Police Chief Ron Forsythe.

Replacements are still in training and Forsythe has called in two retired officers from other departments to help run the department's operations and investigations.

That is with the Solano County Sheriff's Department covering one of those three shifts and recently adding an hour to the time their deputies are on Suisun City's streets.

The City Council will hold a study session on Sept. 8 on what to do about the city's public safety situation and will hear from consultants who have examined the department and the dispatch center.

Forsythe plans to recommend the city fund two more patrol officers to reinforce the thin line of officers he has to keep order in Suisun City.

The police chief called the study session "a critical juncture for the future of public safety in this community" which could turn the department back to 24-hour coverage or contracting out for police services.

"In absence of a long-term funding source, I will ask for interim steps for funding until the community can weigh on the possibility of some kind of tax," Forsythe said.

Forsythe is running a department with a count-the-pennies budget with the hope to someday again cover the streets around the clock instead of handing one shift to the Sheriff's Department.

This is a year after Mayor Jim Spering suggested the city seriously examine the possibility of contracting out Suisun City's police coverage, an idea that struck a raw nerve in a city council election year.

Solano County Sheriff Gary Stanton gladly offered his department's services two years ago to cover Suisun City Police Department's graveyard shift.

While Stanton has said it is hard to argue with the numbers and economies of scale his department offers, he has also repeatedly said he respects the city's desire to keep its department intact. Last summer, Forsythe had said he hoped to have Suisun police back on the job around the clock as soon as this year if finances get better.

Stanton said the situation for Suisun City police is not improving, a stance Forsythe agreed with, but Stanton said any decision over the fate of Suisun City's finest will be made by city officials.

In addition to covering the extra hour for Suisun City police at night, sheriff's deputies are hearing more requests for assistance from Suisun City police.

"They call frequently for backup," Stanton said. "They ask for resources during their normal shift."

The sheriff's office will provide what help it can provided it has sworn or reserve deputies to spare, he said.

The current arrangement can last only so long. At some point, Stanton will have to ask for a long-term commitment in order to hire officers to cover Suisun City, Forsythe said.

Sheriff's deputies have been great to work with, said Suisun City Police Sgt. Doug Riddick. In their small agency, officers handle a number of duties such as code enforcement and community policing, but Riddick doesn't feel overwhelmed.

"I don't think the work load is any different from any other agency," Riddick said. "Officers handle about four to five report calls a night. Some days are busier than others."

With less people on the force, officers may take minutes longer to respond to calls, Riddick said.

"I think anytime staffing is lower, response time is slower," Riddick said. "That creates less desirable conditions for the public."

Morale in the department is down, Riddick said. Officers are leaving for other agencies where their futures are secure. Riddick has never seen the department in this condition in his 28 years on the force.

"The department is at a crossroads," Riddick said. "People don't know which way it's going to go right now. I would like to see it continue. Time will tell if they have they staff and can maintain it."

Suisun City tried unsuccessfully in November 2001 to pass a tax to support public safety. It needed two-thirds of the vote to win, only got 47.1 percent, "and all the things we predicted would happen have come true," Forsythe said.

The police department had floated many of its programs and police officer positions on state and federal grants "but the trouble with grants is that they go away."

The department has lost six positions through budget cuts and has left 22 sworn officers who have bled even more due to retirements, injuries, pregnancies and military call-ups.

"We are now at the point where we are too understaffed to ensure that an in-progress emergency can have two officers respond to it," Forsythe said.

Making these law enforcement ends meet has meant putting officers on long shifts and working up to 14 hours at a time.

The contract with the Sheriff's Department was recently expanded temporarily to bring the deputies on patrol an hour earlier to give Suisun police time it needs to get newly-hired officers trained and on the streets.

"And that will continue," Forsythe said of the change.

Most recently, Forsythe hired on two retired senior officers, Lt. Charlie Heigtz from Hayward who will be the department's operations commander and Larry Profitt, who will head investigations.

Suisun City is old ground for Profitt, who left Suisun City years ago to be Rio Vista's police chief and then city manager.

"This is so I can bring some experience to the organization," Forsythe said of the move.
Forsythe and many officers are dead set against seeing Suisun City's law enforcement contracted out.

"The community is best served by having a department that is part of this community," Forsythe said, "and you don't have that when you contract out."

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

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