The purchase of a license plate reader for police use was approved last week from AB 109 funding at the same time the Ceres City Council approved a budget amendment to spend money from the same fund on overtime and personnel training.
The License Plate Reader (LPR) will be affixed to a patrol car which can quickly record and analyze license plate numbers and run them against the database of plates from stolen vehicles. The tool is expected to increase the number of stolen vehicles to be recovered as well as suspects.
Councilmember Linda Ryno voiced her concern with spending too much of the $94,518 pot of AB 109 money if the city expects police overtime costs to soar with vacancies.
"I'm afraid if we have this ‘mass exodus' that one of the people typically comments about that we're going to have 15 police officers leave - somebody that speaks during our Citizen Communication - if that happens what will happen to the overtime budget," said Ryno. She suggested waiting until March to see where overtime expenses are before spending any AB 109 monies.
City Manager Toby Wells commented that the city is well under its police overtime budget by the tune of $400,000.
"We're very comfortable that we will be coming in under budget on overtime for the police department, bearing unforeseen change," said Wells. Having said that, Wells said he was proposed only spending $43,133 from AB 109 funds and leaving the rest.
The reader costs $23,133. The council approved $10,000 toward overtime costs and $10,000 to POST training.
When Ryno again mentioned the potential loss of 15 officers, Wells immediately interjected "we're not losing 15 officers - I'm confident of that."
Ryno's reference to losing 15 officers came from local NAACP chapter president Frank Johnson, a vocal critic of the city whose rhetoric was ramped up after the departure of Art deWerk as city manager and police chief.
The state AB 109 was passed in 2011 that eliminated overcrowding in state prisons by releasing lower-level offenders out onto the streets. However, the early release has resulted in an increased amount of crime and corresponding police activity. To make up for the impact, the state gives cities more money based on a population formula.
Last year the city was given $122,000 which was used on police overtime expenses.
When the council questioned the excessive amount of police overtime earlier this calendar year, city leaders worked on a plan to curb overtime expenses.