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Residents: More police, higher pay please
• City, Ceres Police union at impasse
Ceres Police Department officers are at an impasse with the city over a two-year labor contract. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A handful of residents pleaded with the Ceres City Council on Monday, Aug. 27 for more police officers and increased officer pay.

The show of support, staged as negotiations between the city and the Ceres Police Officers Association have reached an impasse, was prompted by two Facebook postings saying 16 officers have left Ceres for better pay and benefits elsewhere and that department officers have not had a raise in over 10 years.

“How can we compete with other local agencies when one of our newest officers is making slightly more than his previous job as a loss prevention specialist with Home Depot?” the Ceres POA posting asked. “This has to stop and the city of Ceres needs to make this a priority or more officers will leave. The city official’s lack of urgency regarding this issue is troubling, as the city is wasting thousands of dollars in hiring and training these officers.”

The POA postings caused a number to address the council which resulted in applause from the crowd and a line of officers standing in the back of the room. Vice Mayor Mike Kline asked for the applause to be held but the appeal was ignored each time someone spoke. 

Peggy Cole said she walks over three miles every morning and routinely sees drivers running stop signs. She suggested hiring more police and giving them a raise.

Terry Atkinson got personal with the council when she said “I am ashamed of all of you for not giving our police officers a raise.”

Ceres daycare owner Connie Vasquez said she is concerned that Ceres Police only offers three officers per shift.

“I went to Walmart this morning and I watched a gentleman walk a bike out of the store and it was stolen,” said Vasquez. “I watched him do it. They can’t do anything about it except call the police but there are no police to help. It’s really sad and this is what these small children are growing up into. What can we do about that? How can we keep our fine police officers? Every one of these guys probably has looked for a job outside of Ceres because they’re not getting the raises they deserve.”

Martin Lemus explained that he left Modesto because he felt it didn’t offer enough police protection. He said he is now contemplating leaving Ceres “and the biggest reason why is because a lack of police officers.” However, Lemus said he is pleased with the service he received for non-emergency matters, saying “they’ve been there quickly and efficiently.”

“We are not being competitive with how we’re paying police officers here in our community,” said Lemus. He went on to predict that Ceres will start attracting “individuals who are the bottom of the barrel scraped from the different academies.”

He threatened to not support councilmembers over the matter.

Don Donaldson told the council to raise his taxes to hire more officers.

“Raise my taxes,” said Donaldson. “Do whatever you can so we can be protected. I want to go to sleep at night knowing that I have people to protect me.”

Council candidate Gene Yeakley suggested the audience wanted answers and asked the council for comments. There was silence as the council is in negotiations with the police officer union.

When the council crafted the budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year in June, it stated its support for greater police funding.

Later in the week City Manager Toby Wells said the city has been negotiating with the POA for four months but not reached an agreement like it has with three other bargaining units – Miscellaneous Group, First Line Supervisors/Confidential Group and the Ceres Mid-Managers’ Bargaining Group which received a cost of living adjustment of 1.5 percent as well as equity adjustments to reflect market conditions. On Monday the council went into closed session over contracts with the Ceres Professional Firefighers Association, the Public Safety Mid-Managers, and the Ceres POA.

“There’s active conversations trying to get to resolutions again,” said Wells. “A very generous offer is on the table. The offer presented to the POA, we believe is a fair offer that they rejected. It is similar in nature what has been offered to the other groups that have already been settled. We look forward to getting agreements with the remaining three units and our department heads in the very near future.”

Officer Brian Peterson, president of the Ceres POA, said his group is unsure of the offer.

“Something’s wrong right now and we’re trying to figure out what the actual offer is,” said Peterson. “There’s multiple issues.”

He said there remains the issue of retirement.

“Obviously the state of California can’t sustain paying everybody in the same retirement care that some of the legacy people are in so there’s a secondary retirement tier for new employees that were hired sometime after 2016. We asked the city to give an equal percentage across the board above legacy … to offset the cost of what they were currently handling. That’s still being worked through.”

He said by 2020 the older officers will have to pay 12.88 percent for retirement.

Peterson, who has been with Ceres Police for 13 years, said Ceres officers’ salary growth, once the sixth salary step is reached,   have little way of advance within the department other than make sergeant.

“The issue with Ceres currently is there is not a compensation package that is comparable to other local agencies right here in the Valley,” said Peterson. “You have new guys come in, they’ll do their one year and then once they have their POST certificate, they’re essentially golden to work anywhere they want. So they go to Manteca or other agencies where they can make more money for doing the same thing.

“I think the city has the money but they’re in the business of trying to make the most of it that they can without giving the money to different bargaining groups. We’ve given up concessions to save the city money, we’ve traded holiday time for a percentage just to have liquid assets. We’ve given and given and put things on a sunset clause that never have been returned.”