By Sage Alexander
ARCATA, Calif. — As Arcata Police Department officers work overtime to cope with low staffing, a $50,000 hiring bonus for new officers was approved Wednesday by the City Council. The council unanimously approved increased hiring bonuses, funding for department improvements and a retention bonus at a meeting in which Mayor Sarah Schaefer was absent.
“For me, this is a pretty easy decision,” Councilwoman Stacy Atkins-Salazar said at the meeting.
She said when she discussed concerns with constituents, the vast majority involved issues that could be helped with a fully staffed police department.
“APD works incredibly hard and stretched itself dangerously thin,” she said.
According to a personnel report, there are currently 19 officers in the department. The department is budgeted for 27 officers.
While the city is currently training cadets, they won’t be independent officers until April 2024. The bonus targets fully trained, employed police officers. New officers would receive $30,000 within the first nine months of employment, totaling $50,000 two and a half years after being hired. An annual retention bonus of $7,500 is included for current officers for three years.
The previous hiring bonus offered by the city was $15,000.
Tabatha Miller, director of finance, said at the meeting that the department relies heavily on overtime to deal with the staffing issue, which is expensive. She also confirmed that a comment by Kimberly White was partially true, namely that the city had not had to pay the vacant salaries and thus had some flexibility in the budget to pay for the bonuses.
Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn said at the meeting that APD is down one detective and the remaining detective is next in line to relieve patrol officers.
Atkins-Salazar said a law enforcement presence in the Valley West neighborhood, Arcata Plaza and open spaces like parks and schools would be achieved with more personnel. Councilwoman Alexandra Stillman voiced her support for the incentives and said the city should also think about replacing a police car.
$60,000 was approved for workplace improvements such as workstation improvements.
City Manager Karen Diemer said at the meeting that officers on their way out during exit interviews noted the attractiveness of departments with newer equipment.
Some public commenters in attendance expressed their support for the incentive.
“Somebody’s going to die,” said one public commentator. He said his observation is that no one ever gets a ticket in Arcata, noting that traffic enforcement is lacking.
During the meeting, Council members Kimberly White noted the case of Jennifer Mariposa Garcia, who was fatally struck by a vehicle while walking with her 2-year-old child.
Joanne McGarry said there should be more community involvement to address issues, to make Arcata a city police want to come to.
“The conversation tends to be about getting to a fully staffed number,” Fred Weis said during public comment. “I would like to see a budget to increase that number.”
He also said he supported housing incentives for officers.
Another public commenter, Leslie Johnson, said she did not support the incentive, noting that she came to the meeting because of a recent Times-Standard article about roofies. She said, “survivors should absolutely not be subjected to the police’s lack of integrity,” and said the police have lost the privilege of protecting survivors. She said the police are “the army of the rich” and not to throw survivors to the corrupt wolves.
Deputy Mayor Meredith Matthews said at the meeting that some people have told her that drinking spiking has been a big problem.
“I have approached several bars in the city and they said they would retrain their staff,” she said. She asked people to contact her if they would like a drink test strip.
“This is something Joanne talked about — sometimes it’s about looking out for each other,” Matthews said at the meeting.
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