The understaffed department's line officers are pulling extra patrol shifts that sometimes keep them working 12 or more hours for five days in a row. As a result, the city is paying $1.29 million for overtime in the fiscal year that ended June 30 — 28 percent over projections.
As noted in the Almanac's Sept. 26 cover story, 30 officers have left the department since 2004, and new recruits are far from making up the losses. When fully staffed, the department has 50 sworn officers, but barely 40 are available now, and 20 have fewer than two years of experience. The department should have 30 officers available for patrol, but now has only 23, which means special units such as narcotics and traffic enforcement no longer exist.
Chief Bruce Goitia said six new officers — three new recruits and three from other departments — are on the way, but expected retirements mean that the force probably won't show a net gain in numbers. And with the current pay structure, the city will be lucky to hold onto the new officers for any length of time, given today's challenging environment for police recruiting.
Beginning compensation for new Menlo Park officers is far below many others in the area, including Redwood City, which offers a base salary of almost $86,000 a year to start, compared with $70,000 in Menlo Park. A Menlo Park sergeant earns less than the $84,680 base pay of a patrolman in Redwood City.
Menlo Park needs to take aggressive action now to give Chief Goitia the tools he needs to bring his department up to its allotted strength. City Manager Glen Rojas has already named a task force to study the wage packages of surrounding police departments.
That is a good start. Given the tough recruiting environment — California faces a shortage of up to 13,000 police officers by 2010 — it is time to abandon the city's position of setting its wage standard in the mid-range of what is offered in the surrounding area. That strategy obviously is not working, and if the city is to catch up, it will have to ante up more dollars.
In addition, Chief Goitia and Mr. Rojas should take a hard look at all the department's personnel, and make sure there are no "bad apples" or morale-sapping grudges remaining from the regimes of prior chiefs. In addition, Chief Goitia soon will have to find a replacement for his second in command, Cmdr. Terri Molakides, who will retire next year after 30 years on the force. Her knowledge and stature in the department will be hard to replace.
Despite its seemingly safe reputation, Menlo Park recently has seen random shootings and other violence in areas that traditionally have been far removed from crime. And other sectors of town have plenty of demand for a well-trained and responsive police force. But right now, the MPPD is seriously understaffed. The City Council should make it a top priority to bring the force up to its full complement of personnel as soon as possible.