The Clovis City Council on Monday, June 1 voted to approve the budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. As previously introduced, the budget includes changes to accommodate the estimated loss of $10 million to the city’s general fund as a result of COVID-19.
“There are so many question marks in this budget with these times and what’s happening, there’s a lot of question marks. These are our best estimates and we will have to adjust going forward,” City Manager Luke Serpa told the City Council.
The budget could be modified if the financial state of the city changes but for now, the approved budget hits public safety operations like police and fire the hardest because those areas rely on the general fund more than other sectors.
The police department has been forced to leave open 14 positions, nine of those positions being officers. The city does still, however, have plans to replace 15 vehicles. Given the amount of vehicles the Clovis Police Department have and their age, replacing 15 vehicles per year is slightly behind the ideal pace.
Most of the discussion on the budget centered around how it would impact the police department.
As it stands now, the Clovis Police Department has the lowest staff-to-citizen ratio in the state for cities with over 100,000 people. The department has 0.84 officers per 1,000 residents, while most other departments in the state have over one officer per 1,000 residents.
Clovis Police Chief Curt Fleming put this down partly to how stringent the department is when approaching hiring.
“It was very difficult to find quality candidates to come in and fill those positions because as you know we don’t want to just fill with whoever, we always want to wait and settle for the best rather than go short,” Chief Fleming said.
Despite the low staff rate, the Clovis Police Department has outperformed other departments in the Central Valley. The city is the safest in the Valley according to the 2019 California Crime Index, the department’s response time is below their goal and the department has a 95% approval rating with its citizens.
Councilmember Vong Mouanoutoua was concerned about the potential for the officers in the department to be stretched too thin. Mouanoutoua asked Chief Fleming how he could tell if his officers were being over taxed or struggling with the workload given to them.
Ultimately, Chief Fleming could not give a definitive answer but he did commend his officers for the job they have done in keeping the city safe, despite being short-staffed. To hire more officers, it would likely take an increase in sales tax, which Councilmember Bob Whalen said would be “dead on arrival”.
Chief Fleming did, however, attribute the department’s strong relationship with the community as a factor in making the jobs of their officers more manageable. The department routinely hosts events with the public and openly communicates with members of the media and directly to the public through social media.
The department prides itself on its modern take on policing, the title of its 2020 report was “21st Century Policing” and it focused heavily on how the department is reaching out to communities, especially children to build trust.
Those kinds of programs have been found to not just work in peaceful suburban areas but also in urban areas that struggle with high crime rates. Camden, New Jersey was once regarded as the most dangerous city in America, rebuilt its police department from the ground up in 2013.
The new department began doing many of the things that the Clovis Police Department had been doing — community outreach and building trust with citizens, in particular kids. In 2018 Camden reached a 40 year low in their violent crime rate.
Camden’s success in turning its department around and the actions they took are being encouraged as a model for other departments. Though, for the Clovis Police Department, it’s just what they had been doing all along.
It’s rare for a police department to have an approval rating as high as the Clovis Police Department has. For example, a 2017 Gallup poll found that 57 percent of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot of” confidence in their local police department.
The department’s strong relationship with the community has helped stretch the tight budget and make the lives of their short-staffed officers that little bit calmer. Which at the end of the day, makes the budget cuts easier for the department to swallow.
The Fire Department is also facing cuts, they have three firefighter positions which will remain open and the fire department’s vehicles will not see upgrades or replacements in the next fiscal year.
As of now, there will be no layoffs to staff.
The City Council was grateful to the city staff for their work on the budget given the extraordinary circumstances that the budget had to be built around.
“I appreciate the presentation tonight, I thought it was really effective.” Councilmember Lynne Ashbeck said. That sentiment was echoed by the other members of the City Council.
City Manager Serpa also thanked his staff for their work on putting together the budget, “hats off to all of them,” Serpa said.