Chief Dobberstein Responds to letter sent to some residents:
October 21, 2016
An open letter to the citizens of Fortuna,
Yesterday I was given a copy of a mailer that was sent to many Fortuna residents urging a NO vote on the upcoming Measure E. As Chief of Police, I cannot take an official public stand in support or against the measure; however, I can address misleading and incorrect information as it relates to my department. I have a duty to my staff and our citizens to address the very misleading information included in this mailer.
The mailer states that the City is planning on increasing “salary and benefits” if this measure is passed. This is news to me. I have not had one discussion with any member of the City Council about using these funds for salary and benefit increases. If fact all discussions regarding additional funding have been focused on adding at least 3 vital sworn officer positions to the Fortuna Police Department including a Detective, a Problem Oriented Police officer of “POP” officer and a School Resource Officer.
The mailer states that the department has “6 administrators”, which includes 4 Sergeants, to oversee 9 officers. This again is not true. Sergeants in the FPD are not “Administrators” but rather shift supervisors. Each sergeant is assigned to one of our 4 shifts and provides shift supervision, in addition, Sergeants in the FPD also handle calls for service, just as our patrol officers do.
The mailer states that police department salary and benefit costs are up 15.3% in the past two years. The facts are that none of the officers or dispatchers has received an increase in salary since 2011. Benefit costs have risen but the city has no control over those increases to medical insurance, workers compensations costs, and the Public Employee Retirement System. In fact the city has significantly changed the retirement formula with PERS to provide a much lower benefit for new employees and employees that have been hired in the past 3 years.
The mailer states that the FPD went from 23 employees in the early 2000’s to 26 now. What is not said is that 3 full-time non-sworn positions have been eliminated and replaced with 4 part-time positions in an effort to cut the budget, we also have a part-time kennel attendant who works about 10 hours a week. These part-time positions are not eligible for benefits, such as medical and retirement. The mailer includes all of these part-time employees in their number, which is very misleading, as we have reduced full-time staff and not added new positions.
Finally, and most importantly, the mailer states that our employees are “not under paid or overworked”. Of the six past council members or former employees who signed on the mailer, not one of them have spoken to me about crime trends, calls for service, or inquired about officer workload. Not one of them has asked to do a ride-a-long with an officer to see for themselves what our officers do. I take exception to an uninformed person stating something to be a fact, when in fact; they are stating an uninformed opinion.
Here are some facts:
• In 2002 the FPD handled a total of 9,343 calls for service. In 2015 the FPD handled 20,250 calls for service. In 2016 we are on pace to handle about 23,000 calls for service.
• Just in the last 2 months the FPD has investigated 2 homicides and 3 armed robberies (including a home invasion style robbery and a bank robbery). These cases are being investigated by patrol officers as the FPD does not have a detective. The FPD has also seen an increase in theft related calls, transient related calls and drug house related issues.
• On a typical day our officers handle about 56 calls for service. Often the FPD has only 2 officers on patrol.
• The FPD has eliminated a full-time records clerk position and two full-time Community Service Officer positions and replaced these positions with part-time personnel
• The US Department of Justice recommends that a city the size of Fortuna should have 24 sworn officers. The FPD has 15 sworn officers.
• The starting salary for a police officer at the FPD is $19.47 per hour. This starting salary is only higher than the City of Ferndale which starts at $18.47 per hour. In contrast, the City of Arcata starts at $24.13 per hour, Eureka $23.23 per hour, Sheriff $23.07 per hr. and the City of Rio Dell at $20.11 per hour.
Without additional funding we will continue to operate with a deficit budget, which will mean further cuts to the police department. These cuts will impact our residents with longer response times and force the police department to prioritize what type of calls the police department will respond to due to personnel shortages. I have an open door policy and am willing to speak to anyone about the police department budget, crime trends, staffing or any other aspect of the FPD.
Chief of Police
City of Fortuna