San Joaquin Media Group, recordnet.com
BYLINE: Christian Burkin, Record Staff Writer
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Property clerk Stanley Dillard, left, trains Stockton police Officer Ben Lee in his job Thursday. CLIFFORD OTO/The Record
STOCKTON - The worst-case scenario for next year's police budget calls for laying off 100 civilian employees, but not for the elimination of all those positions.
Instead, many of those civilian jobs are to be assumed by police officers. It's an arrangement Chief Blair Ulring acknowledged as inefficient - officers are paid more than civilians - but one he has to adopt to maintain the ranks of the sworn.
All but two of 13 civilian employees in the evidence-identification section are to be replaced by police, as are all three civilians in the property room, where confiscated firearms and drugs are secured.
Those to be replaced are training their replacements.
At the Police Department on Thursday, Gina Smith, an evidence technician for nine years, was training Officer Kenneth Webb, recently transferred from patrol's graveyard shift. Smith said it was difficult to face unemployment, let alone train your replacement, but that she and her colleagues were willing.
"You gotta do what you gotta do," she said.
Smith said that after years of budget cuts and concessions by her union, the Stockton City Employees Association, she considers the loss of her job likely, if not inevitable.
"If it doesn't happen this year, maybe next year," she said.
Linda Engrav-Clarke, the property room's supervisor, was concerned the transition, if it occurs, won't be smooth. She said officers rotating in from patrol will have to appear in court to support their arrests, at least for the first few months. If there's an emergency, and officers are called away, the offices will shut down.
Engrav-Clarke said that given the budget constraints, Chief Ulring's decision makes sense.
"I understand an officer can be trained in there to do the basics, and then get pulled to the street to do things I can't do," she said.
That is precisely the scenario Ulring cites as the reason for the reassignment: If there were a major emergency, or a sudden need for backup, he still would have officers on hand.
"The best course of action is to have sworn personnel that can be two-faceted," he said. "It's trying to take what's inefficient and make an efficiency out of it."
Officer Steve Leonesio, president of the Stockton Police Officers Association, said the move was a kind of "shell game."
"They're taking officers off the streets, and they can't respond to crimes," he said.
Leonesio said the officers would be under-trained for the jobs they were assuming, particularly in evidence, and that could threaten cases involving them. "The work product will be inadequate because of inadequate training," he said.
The Police Department called for volunteers for reassignment in late April. Ulring said there weren't enough volunteers, so the most junior officers on each shift were reassigned. That didn't go over well.
"We had a mixed response," Ulring said. "Some people didn't sign on for this kind of work."
Ulring has long said that continued cuts to the Police Department are dangerous, but he must offer a plan for the budget he is given. The current plan, to eliminate as many as 16 police officer positions, would limit the Police Department's response to in-progress crimes and life-threatening situations.
"I couldn't recommend any stronger that we not do this," he said.
The city must either cut benefits or cut jobs, and negotiations with the police union have so far not produced an agreement for next year. The police union last week went public with an offer of concessions in return for a contract extension and a promise from the city not to declare bankruptcy. The city and the police union are still negotiating.
Concessions last year by the Stockton City Employees Association, the city's largest employee group, returned about $1.44 million to the general fund. In April, the association declined to reopen its contract to further negotiation.
Joe Rose, an attorney for the association, said the plan to replace civilian Police Department employees with police officers reinforces a suspicion that concessions by the SCEA will be used to save police jobs.
"We're fairly confident that the concessions by our people will go to other bargaining units," he said. "They won't give us the commitment we need to give us the confidence that we're going to be saving our own skins."
Contact reporter Christian Burkin at (209) 546-8279 or . Visit his blog at recordnet.com/burkinblog.
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