MORRO BAY — My concern centered on what I heard from a woman who had a hate speech incident requiring assistance from the Morro Bay police. She wasn’t happy. She felt she had been made to feel responsible for the incident when, in fact, she was the victim. She wanted to file a report. She wanted to feel that her police department was truly interested in her safety and she felt that all these things came up short.
Further than that, I began to read messages on a local social media site that disturbed me. There seemed to be an overwhelming negative attitude about our homeless population. But there were also neighborhood concerns about safety. I saw that Neighborhood Watch had developed and hoped that it would not become a vigilante group. Groups that work to try and assist people who have fallen on hard times and alleviate poverty and homelessness were also in contact with the police department asking for assistance.
It was all of these things that caused me to become interested in discovering how a police department works and why they do what they do. I hoped to find out what drives them to act and react the way they do in any given circumstance. I also wanted to gather information to pass on to residents so they would know and understand what to do in any given situation that might cause them to contact the police for assistance — what is crime, whether to file a report, how to file a report, what to do and what not to do in a serious type
After some discussions with the police chief, we both saw the need for the resurgence of the Citizen’s Police Academy, a nine-week course of study about anything and everything to do with policing. The course has been given before, but seven years have elapsed and several police chiefs have come and gone. Chief Jody Cox embraced the idea as did the rank and file members of the department.
The first session of the Academy met on Thursday evening, Sept. 12 for three hours. We were introduced to an extensive overview of the department as well as an enlightening Power-Point on the history of law enforcement. We learned that there are only 18 sworn personnel and at this time only 16. Recruitment is taking place but so far candidates have not lived up to the high expectations of the department. The overall concern is to assure that officers are willing and able to work in conjunction with the community. Their Mission Statement spells it out: To provide the highest level of police service in partnership with our community. Their Motto: Police-Community-Together.
We learned about the history of the force in Morro Bay and the different programs such as the Explorer Program for youth interested in police work, the Volunteer Program, without which this department would struggle, and the Neighborhood Watch Program.
We also learned the latest crime statistics. There is a yearly average of 11,000 calls for service. That more or less equates to almost one call from every single Morro Bay resident. So far for 2019, the department has received approximately 7,500 calls. The yearly average arrests number 500 with approximately 360 so far this year. And about 880 crime reports have been filed. In the recent Safest Cities survey Morro Bay came in at 42 out of over 2,900 similar-sized cities.
The challenges faced by the department center around the uncertainty of the Morro Bay economic future and it is this along with the lowest comparable salary being offered that makes recruitment especially difficult. With budget constraints and insufficient staffing comes an increased workload followed by stress and very few people perform well when stressed. Even the workspace brings challenges as this writer learned on a tour of the facility which appears to be set up akin to gopher warren with narrow hallways going this way and that and small boxy rooms jutting off to the right and left. The building the department is located in is the original police building stemming from 1965 and has only had one small add-on.
Our first class was informative, instructional, casual, and sometimes a bit hilarious when each of us had to give a little history about ourselves including whether any of us had ever had any interaction with a police officer in the past. But that information will remain confidential among us. I look forward to the next eight sessions covering things like use of force, biased policing, range training, firearms simulator, and talks from the District Attorney, the Fire Department Chief, the Harbor Department, and the Police Chaplain. Should be interesting! More to come...