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New Street Crimes Unit hits the street
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Thanks to the half-cent sales tax measure approved by the voters in November, Ceres put its Street Crimes Unit on the streets last week.

Sgt. Pat Sullivan and Officer Jeremy Caron went out for the first time on Wednesday. Two additional officers are being hired for the unit, which will focus mainly on street gangs and narcotics trafficking.

"We've got a portion of the unit started," said Deputy Chief of Police Mike Borges, "and if any citizens have any information regarding gangs or drugs or any other serious criminal activity they can call the street crimes tip line at 538-5740."

The unit will work varying shifts, said Borges, but focus primarily on evening hours or as needed.

The unit will be comprised of a sergeant and three officers.

"We have one officer in the FTO program now and half a dozen backgrounds in process trying to get additional officers hired," said Borges. "At least we've got half of that unit started right now. Hopefully the entire unit will be up and running before the end of the year."

Besides gangs and drugs, the unit will also be assisting detectives in other serious crimes, "like if we have a series of robberies or other major issues," said Borges.

On Nov. 6, Ceres voters passed Measure H, the half-cent sales tax for public safety to provide for an increased number of firefighters and police officers. The measure passed with 75.12 percent voter approval.

Measure H raised the sales tax in Ceres from 7.375 percent to 7.875 percent. The tax is expected to generate approximately $2 million to $2.5 million annually to fund new police and fire personnel. The tax also buys new protective equipment for officers, implement anti-gang and anti-drug programs for youth, and buy emergency rescue equipment.

Public Safety Director Art deWerk said the proceeds from Measure H are to be used exclusively to hire new firefighters and police officers. The funds may not be diverted to other city operations nor may they be used to supplant the portion of the city general fund budget that has traditionally been allocated to the Public Safety Department's budget.

Measure H also is making it possible for Ceres to develop three-man firefighter companies at each of its four stations. A three-man company would enable quicker attacks on structure fires.

DeWerk said the Street Crimes Unit's aim will be to "police the gangs more thoroughly" and "go after the known violent criminals and repeat offenders, parolees and the others who prey on our citizens and neighborhoods."

"As the new revenues compile, we will also be able to place more patrol officers on the streets during peak activity periods."

Measure H calls specifically calls for the hiring of seven fire personnel and five police positions in the first 12 months. With each following year several additional public safety positions will be added, such that by the end of about eight years, a total of 24 new positions will have been added to the Public Safety Department. The hiring plan is based on an estimate of sales tax revenues.

Although Measure H went into effect on Jan. 1, the state of California did not start collecting revenues until April 1. The first check from the state was due at city hall this month.

De Werk said the city has been in a deficit police and fire staffing mode. New personnel is needed, he said, due to the increased volume of calls for both police and fire services. In the past five years, calls for police service have increased from 39,443 in 2002 to 62,065 calls in 2006.