Visalia PD adjusts Measure N plan for 2 community officers
Visalia Police Department adds two community service officer positions to its force, hoping to fill gaps left by police officer vacancies
VISALIA – In order to better address its needs, the Visalia Police Department will add two community service officer positions to its force for fiscal year 2023-24.
Visalia City Council approved a change to the Measure N 10-year plan at its meeting July 17. This came after a request from the department to allocate two community service officers (CSO) instead of one police officer. Police Chief Jason Salazar said the Visalia Police Department (VPD) currently has 10 vacant police officer positions they are trying to fill, and adding another as slated would not be beneficial.
“For us, we decided Measure N is going to add a police officer position, but for the time being it’s just adding another vacancy,” Salazar said. “For the cost of one, we can do two community service officers.”
The Measure N sales tax, which passed in 2016, allocates funds to support public safety services and infrastructure maintenance. Salazar said that any time the department would like to make a change, they must go before an oversight committee to ensure the change is consistent with what voters intended when they originally passed the 10-year plan.
City council held a public hearing and first reading of the amendment at its June 19 meeting and approved the amendment in a 5-0 vote on its second reading.
Salazar said that the CSO position is often a great recruiting and training tool for people who eventually want to become police officers; in fact, Salazar himself started as a CSO. As someone with first hand experience in the matter, he said the department can give someone more experience this way and also have a chance to evaluate an officer before potentially hiring them later on and sponsoring them through the police academy.
According to Salazar, adding more CSOs to the department is helpful because by responding to certain service calls, they free up police officers to respond to more serious calls. CSOs handle patrol duties, respond to traffic collisions, help direct traffic, issue parking tickets and take after-the-fact crime and incident reports where there are no suspects on scene.
“Really, it’s more of those lower-level types of calls for service or quality-of-life calls for service, where they can respond to or handle as well as police officers,” Salazar said.
The more serious calls police officers respond to include family disputes, violent crimes and mental health calls, which can pose a higher risk of danger and often require a longer response time. Salazar said having more CSOs “allows us to respond to people’s calls faster because we can get a CSO there faster than a police officer.”
CSO positions are also generally easier for the police department to fill because “the process just isn’t quite as in-depth,” Salazar said. Unlike police officers, community service officers do not have to attend a police academy and require less training. While the department still thoroughly vets its CSO candidates, the requirements are not as stringent.
When budgeting for positions funded by Measure N, the city takes into account salary, benefits and vehicle and equipment costs. CSOs have lower salaries and equipment costs than police officers, which allowed for the department to get “two for the price of one.”
According to a staff report, the cost of adding one police officer position comes out to $267,000 — $171,000 in salary and benefits, $80,000 for a police vehicle and $16,000 for equipment. A single CSO position costs $126,150 — $91,100 in salary and benefits, $30,000 for a vehicle and $5,100 for equipment — putting the price of two CSO positions at $252,300.
By changing the plan to allocate two CSO positions in the current fiscal year, the department is saving $14,700. That extra savings will remain in the Measure N fund for future use, Salazar said.