Lindsay chief calls for department to change

Chief of public safety says the current structure of police officers working as firefighters is unsustainable moving forward

LINDSAY – When Lindsay decided to cross train their officers as firefighters in 2012, they did it to save money. But in 2021, not much has changed. Now public safety chief Chris Hughes is saying the model doesn’t work.

Hughes told the Lindsay City Council late last month that the public safety department needs a full-time fire professional. He said that police can do quite a bit to support fire services, but he still needs a professional whose job it is to run fire services when needed.

“We have police officers to basically put on bomb gear and squirt water. It’s not a sustainable model,” Hughes said. “You know, we either get them trained, or we get a professional—at least one would be great. I want three, but one would be great to help us do those things.”

Short of the three personnel Hughes wants, he said there is an opportunity to reestablish a volunteer fire service.

“We can do so much more from that point alone. We can start a volunteer program, and there’s a million miles we can go with that,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the city has been pursuing a grant to help fund that position. Grants for fire personnel are highly competitive which is why Lindsay has fallen short the last few years they have applied. Part of the reason Hughes is calling for a change is the burden of training. Officers coming out of the academy are not necessarily trained for advanced fire support. When Lindsay is called to fight one of the city’s five fires in a year, they’re officers are not ready.

“Some people out of the academy weren’t trained in that area, and so we protect them and don’t allow them to really participate in that game. They’re more help than anything, but, you know, at some point, where does that end,” Hughes asked.

Other cities, most similarly Exeter, does not have fire personnel either. Instead they supply the trucks and engines, but contract with the Tulare County Fire Department to staff them. Hughes said they reached out to the county but cost was too prohibitive. They attempted to contract with CalFire but the cost was even further out of reach. Instead, without a fire professional or fully trained fire personnel, Hughes and the Lindsay public safety department are dependent on neighboring firefighters.

“We have a great fire community. I mean, anytime we need help county fire is here, they’re here in a heartbeat. And if you do mutual aid request Porterville is usually right on top of things. So, we’re not by any means short. We just have the need for resources,” Hughes said.

But not everything is so bleak. Hughes told the city council there were some dark times in his career with Lindsay. Since 2011 and up until recently when the city would qualify for public safety grants that required a 50% match, Lindsay wasn’t able to come up with their side of the deal.

“In the past there’s no 50 on our side. For several years around, I don’t want to talk bad, but changing a light bulb was a task because things were tight. Things were tight, morale was low and things were tough. This is the first I’ve seen the light in a long time,” Hughes said.

Other needs

Aside from the double-duty Lindsay officers pull as fire personnel, Lindsay isn’t necessarily keeping up with the number of officers they need overall. According to Hughes the city has less than one officer per 1,000 residents. The only city in Tulare County lower than them is Dinuba who has .7 officers per 1,000 residents.

As of this year the city’s public safety department has one director and two lieutenants, four sergeants and eight patrol officers. They also have one school resource officers funded by the Lindsay Unified School District, two administrative staffing positions, one open detective positions and three open fire lieutenant positions.

By comparison, in 2012 the department has three administrative officers, four sergeants, 10 patrol officers, one detective, one school resource officers, four part-time officers, three fire engineers and two animal control officers.

Hughes said the staffing level for the department has made it difficult for officers to take vacation time or take time off patrols for trainings. Councilwoman Rosaena Sanchez asked why Measure O, the city’s 1% sales tax measure—hadn’t help provide more funding for the department.

“I’ve lived in Lindsay all my life. And we need police officers, we need them. We just need them. We need enough officers that when they’re gone, they can step in…This has gone too far, too long, for us to have a shortage of police offices,” Sanchez said.

City manager Joe Tanner said that while Measure O has helped boost the general fund by almost $1 million a year it is not necessarily enough to hire more officers. Hughes did say that Tanner has been forthcoming with funds to replace other smaller ticket items like Tasers—and that was not always the case. Hughes told the council when he started with the department there was a chance his firearm may not fire “because they were that old.”

Larger ticket items that need replacement is definitely the fleet. The city’s newest vehicles is a 2020 Toyota Highlander with only 6,500 miles. But the department’s next newest cars are 2011, Chevy Silverados with an average 125,500 miles. They also have five 2011 Ford Fusions with an average 120,000 miles; three 2011Ford Crown Victorias with an average 114,000; one 2011 Toyota Highlander with 111,000 miles; one 2007 Ford Crown Victoria with 106,000 miles; one 2006 Ford Crown Victoria with 142,000 miles; three 2006 Toyota Highlanders with an average 125,000 miles; and one 2005 Ford Crown Victoria with 148,000 miles.

Hughes said former city manager Bill Zigler made efforts to replace the city’s public works fleet before investing in the police department. Which was a decision Hughes did not disagree with.

“He took care of them first, because their, their vehicles were worse than ours,” Hughes said. “[The plan was] if we needed a new vehicle, you know, we’ll reach out to surrounding agencies for their cars.”

Cleaner audit

Lindsay received their cleanest audit in 10 years late last month. Ahmed Badawi with Badawi and Associates CPAs told the council that they were removing the “going concern” designation. The city managed to settle negotiations with the California Department of Housing and Community Development and the Tulare County Transportation Authority that had hampered the general fund for years.

The settlements mark a major breakthrough for the city which still has considerable debt on the books but have a much clearer picture on their revenues and expenses. Hughes has been there for it all and is encouraged that in the waning years of his career, things are finally getting on the right track.

“Now that a lot of the settlements and stuff have been worked out, we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel here. We’re not out of the woods by any means. But, you know, we’re in a better situation than we were four years ago,” Hughes said.

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