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Friday, Mar 21 2014 05:09 PM

BPD hopes new academy fills out force

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    A Bakersfield police K-9 unit leaves the scene of a SWAT standoff March 14.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The Bakersfield Police Department's current complement of sworn officers has declined again, from 355 in late January to 352 today, but a new police academy of 42 could have the department fully staffed by late August.

Another training academy for city police officers began last week, and despite six drop-outs, the 42 remaining is more than enough to bring BPD up to its full complement of 389 sworn officers this summer, Police Chief Greg Williamson said.

"That's certainly what we're hoping for and if not, we have alternative plans," Williamson said, following a presentation Thursday to the Bakersfield City Council's Safe Neighborhoods and Community Relations Committee.

Those alternative plans would include starting a second police academy in September if it's needed, the police chief said.

Bakersfield police Sgt. Joe Grubbs, the department spokesman, said he did not know exactly why three additional officers have left BPD in the last two months, but attributed their departures to the typical reasons of resignations, retirements and lateral transfers to other police forces.

"Pretty much like any other business, we have people who leave for a variety of reasons," Grubbs said.

Like departments nationwide, Bakersfield has had difficulty hiring police when confronted with aging populations, improved background checks and a younger generation of applicants more likely than its predecessors to have some type of criminal past.

An ongoing police department strategic plan could also reveal staffing solutions.

In January, the Bakersfield City Council voted 6-1 to spend no more than $99,875 from the general fund to hire the International Association of Chiefs of Police to help BPD develop a strategic plan.

IACP members have visited Bakersfield once and will visit at least once more -- likely in late April or early May -- although the completed study isn't expected until mid-2014.

Williamson said he's hopeful in-progress conclusions could help the department determine staffing needs in the proposed 2014-2015 fiscal year budget, which the council must approve by June 30.

However, Assistant to the City Manager Chris Huot said it's still too early in both the budget and police study processes to know if and when the study will help inform BPD's budgeting.

Committee Chairman Russell Johnson said the answer has always been relatively simple: just hire more police officers.

"My thought on this -- if the study comes back and tells us we need to add additional officers, it confirms what I knew going into this, that the additional officers were the solution," said Johnson, who is Ward 7 councilman and cast the lone vote against hiring IACP.

Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera, a committee member, agreed, saying he's hopeful the study reveals new directions for BPD -- but the department needs to continue focusing on adding officers regardless of IACP's findings.

"If (it's) having more academies then it's having more academies. If it's doing more at the police department to retain the officers we have, then we have to focus on that as well," Rivera said. "I don't think we need a study to tell us that."

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