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Police beef up services under Measure H
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A total of $373,526 will be spent from Measure H half-cent sales tax revenues to beef up police services for the new fiscal year.

The 2011-12 fiscal year started on Friday.

Last week the City Council approved a plan calling for the hiring of a new patrol officer with $92,027 of Measure H tax dollars. An additional $273,334 will be used for other items, including a full-time high-tech crimes investigator costing $124,558.

Deputy Chief Mike Borges said the city is also buying a much-needed computer fingerprint analysis hardware / software package and $24,000 in replacement SWAT team body armor.

Identifying fingerprints in-house means quicker identification and has resulted in quicker arrests, particularly in burglaries, said Borges. Last year Ceres submitted 118 sets of fingerprints to the Sheriff's Department for identification purposes. Many of those came back the same day, helping Ceres officers to identify and arrest suspects. But budget cuts to Sheriff's Department will continue to reduce accessibility to those services and would likely delay in getting matches.

Borges said the city saw a need about two years ago to fund and train an officer to investigate high-tech crimes since Ceres had to rely on one overly busy Sheriff's Department investigator. During the celebrated Mesiti murder case, the Ceres investigator spent 40 to 50 hours a week during a two-month stretch examining evidence in the case, causing him to be removed from his regular assignment and driving up overtime costs.

The high-tech specialist will be devoted to retrieving evidence from computers and cell phones used in the commission of financial crimes, counterfeiting and child pornography cases. Borges said a high-tech officers can take one to two years to train.

Borges said the city's part-time high-tech investigator was invaluable last year in making arrests of suspects. Over 25 cell phones of suspects were seized to retrieve deleted text messages which led to arrests in November 2009 gang activity and drug sales and a January 2010 murder case.

The council also allocated $30,000 for a high-tech crimes lab, $82,000 for CopLink crime analysis hardware/software and $30,000 for fingerprint analysis hardware/software.

Originally the city planned to use this year's allotment for another lieutenant positon.

"It was decided that the administrative support is not necessary - it would have been nice - but that it was more important to put a cop on the street and fund our crime analysts."

Borges said the new officer was sworn in at last night's Concerts in the Park.

Measure H was passed by Ceres voters on Nov. 6, 2007 by 75.12 percent. Almost immediately, the city established a Street Crimes Unit to crack down on gangs and street crimes like drug sales, assaults and drive-by shootings.

"Our Street Crimes Unit is trying to keep handle on violent crimes," said Borges.

Since passage, Measure H funds have paid for one lieutenant and six bodies on the police side.

"We could be in a lot worse shape if it wasn't for those bodies. A lot of our stuff is dealing with gang bangers. Our patrol officers are quite active."

Borges said Ceres has his officers routinely fight burglaries, gang crimes and violent crimes.

"Lately we've been seeing a rash of daytime burglaries in the northwest portion of town over in the River Road and Musick. We're making routine traffic stops taking guns off of people and felons. But our homicides in the last two to three years have seen a 100 percent clearance rate. Our guys work hard to identify suspects in serious assaults, like shootings and stabbings. In the shooting with Officer Peterson we had the suspect identified and in custody in three days... In the Morgan/Whitmore homicide we had them in 30 days.

"We have a gang problem, yes, but I think we're in better shape because of Measure H to deal with that problem."

Borges said that at any shift there are at least four patrol officers, which he said can rival the amount of deputies covering the entire county. In the busiest times, from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., a sergeant and seven units are available.

A part-time four-hours-per-day secretary for the detectives bureau was added out of the general fund.

Over the last several years the secretary left to go to planning and was never replaced out of interests in saving money. "As we got into that we discovered our detectives at least needed part-time support and couldn't do without it."

A records division employee had been filling that role but was bumped back to records.

Measure H funds resulted in three additional firefighters being hired for Fire Stations 1 and 4 with three more to be hired in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Measure H is expected to raise $31.5 million for public safety in the first 10 years.