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City abandoning Public Safety Department concept
Council votes to separate police & fire operations since few employees have cross trained
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For the first time since 1988, the city of Ceres is doing away with its single Public Safety Department to oversee fire and police services as separate departments. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The Ceres City Council took the first steps on Monday to scrap the Public Safety Department in favor of traditional separate police and fire departments.

Ceres adopted the Public Safety Department model in 1988, placing police and fire operations under the control of a single director who doubled as the police chief. Then chief Pete Peterson helped enact the change. City Attorney Mike Lyions said that a number of cities went with the concept that "never really gained any type of traction." He said the idea was that personnel would be cross-trained to both fight fires and crime and become more efficient. Lyions said few patrol learned to fight fires and few firefighters wanted to carry a gun and become police officers.

"It doesn't exist in most jurisdictions anymore," said Lyions.

The move does away with the director of Public Safety Department position formerly held by Art deWerk.

"It was staff's thought that given the fact that there's now a vacancy in the position of director of Public Safety that now would be the time to abandon the old Public Safety Department concept and move back to the traditional organization structure of having two separate departments - a police department and a fire department with a police chief in charge of police and a fire chief in charge of fire."

The council also backed creating new job descriptions for a police chief and police captain. Because there will be no director who relies on a deputy chief - a position vacant since the departure of Mike Borges - the council is eliminating that position in favor of a police captain.

In streamlining the city operation, Lyions outlined other proposed changes. The city manager may appoint a deputy city manager in his absence without council approval. The old ordinance said the council had to approve the fill-in replacement during absences, a practice which was never followed, he said. Typically another department head fills in for the manager when he is on vacation or attending conferences.

The changes were applauded by Ceres resident Leonard Shepherd, a who California Department of Forestry retiree.

"The guy running Public Safety Department is kind of like the guy trying to drive two cars at once," said Shepherd. "It ain't possible ... Get it straight. You're doing it finally after all these years."

The council got hung up on the salary ranges. Councilman Mike Kline balked at starting the salary range of the new police captain as high as the deputy chief range.

Councilmember Linda Ryno suggested waiting for the arrival of a new chief to help decide on whether to create a captain position or other aspects of the reorganization of the department. "What if they're good with three lieutenants versus a captain?" asked Ryno.

City Manager Toby Wells suggested making the changes as the city moves toward appointment of the permanent police chief. The department has been operated for over six months by Acting Police Chief Brent Smith.

"We've already been in an acting role for six plus months and it's created some instability within the department," said Wells.

No decision has been made how the next chief will be appointed. The council could appoint Smith or seek candidates from inside or outside the organization.

Ryno and Kline cast no in the 3-2 vote on the new job descriptions.

Wells said there will likely be no savings in the move.