The Grass Valley and Nevada City police forces could work more closely together than ever if a collaboration proposed by the two departments’ chiefs garners approval from each town’s council next week.
The plan calls for Nevada City to dedicate one of its officers to work as a shared detective under Grass Valley’s supervision on a six-month trial basis, which would provide Nevada City an investigator it currently lacks, the chiefs said. In exchange, Grass Valley would help offset Nevada City’s staff allocation by patrolling that town’s streets during late-night hours that are statistically low on calls for service.
“During nonpeak times, the calls for service aren’t very high, for both agencies,” said Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster. “We should be able to handle it with our existing staffing.”
Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham touted the deal as sorely needed for his department to adequately investigate matters outside the purview of simple calls for service.
Wickham’s department has seven officers, two sergeants and a part-time chief. Without a detective of its own, follow-up interviews, research and other investigative matters are all subject to the availability of the responding officer of the original incident, NCPD officials said.
That becomes problematic for officers who are supposed to avoid overtime and are forced to conduct investigations on top of their regular patrol duties — especially if that officer works hours outside the regular business day, is sick or doesn’t return to their shift for a couple of days, Wickham noted.
“It’s an inefficient way to run a police department,” Wickham said. “It is just crazy.”
Even with Nevada City’s 3/8-cent voter-approved sales tax increase, its police department’s $1.57 million operating budget for fiscal year 2013/2014 represents a nearly $80,000 decline from the 2012/2013 midyear adjustment, according to Finance Director Catrina Olson.
With limited resources, it is virtually impossible to assign an officer to a specialized unit, such as investigations, unless grant funding is available, Wickham noted in his staff report to the Nevada City Council for its June 12 meeting, the night after Grass Valley’s council is slated to consider the collaborative proposal.
While the shared detective would help investigate Grass Valley cases, that person would be freed up to investigate Nevada City incidents when needed, Wickham said.
Grass Valley also is benefitting from a voter-approved sales tax measure. But even though the half of a percent sales tax hike will provide its police department with four added officer positions and one more detective, bringing the total sworn staff to five sergeants, 19 officers (including two detectives), one captain and the chief, Foster said the nearly $500,000 increase to his $4 million budget won’t be enough to alleviate the need for investigators.
“Even with passing Measure N, it helps provide some positions and equipment, but it is still not enough,” Foster said.
Since the beginning of economic hardships in 2008, Foster said the department has gotten creative to ease the workload on his trimmed staff, such as moving to more online reporting of lesser incidents, relying more on technology, consolidation of county-wide dispatch services and increased reliance on volunteers, interns and community service officers.
“This is the next step,” Foster said. “We need to look at what we can do to share services.”
The shared detective for three to four days a week, with Grass Valley officers patrolling Nevada City at night, is an expansion on a recent series of collaborative efforts between the two departments.
Already the two agencies assist one another in response to incidents, share a chaplain and reserve officers in staffing special events (parades, street fairs, etc.), work together on training and conduct joint briefings to share information.
“The criminals don’t stop at the city limits,” Foster said. “The idea is to share information and have the ability to know what is occurring in both cities on a timely basis.”
Information sharing played a vital role in establishing patterns and clamping down on a 58 percent spike in residential burglaries in the first six months of 2012, Foster said. Having officers and detectives crossing borders will provide further analysis of crime patterns, Wickham said.
Both chiefs have identified further collaborations that could be coming down the pipeline.
For instance, each department currently allocates its own staff time to filing records, evidence and other property.
“That’s duplicating resources right next to each other,” Wickham said, noting that the two departments could share those functions and further save resources.
“Isn’t it smarter to work together?” he added.
Another duplication is their separate staff members in charge of shooting range activities, Wickham noted.
There is also talk of combining their efforts to address homeless-related issues. Currently both departments have separate ways of handling the issue, most evident in Nevada City, which adopted a no-camping ordinance that allows for an exemption if a person can demonstrate their public campsite is safe, doesn’t infringe on others and meets health and safety standards.
“We’re not looking at consolidation. We’re looking at sharing our resources,” Foster said. “If that was to occur, that would be a different dialogue.”
Nevada City has come under fire in the past for maintaining its own police department. A May 2012 Nevada County Civil Grand Jury Report called on the city to thoroughly examine that option.
In 2010, the city council formed a committee to explore the possibility of outsourcing its police services with Councilman Duane Strawser as the spearhead. However, the city has since downplayed those efforts, pointing to Wickham’s reforms of the department since his March 2012 hiring as an example of the importance of local control.
“Both Chief Wickham and myself recognize that we need to be sensitive and not lose the small-town character of each department,” Foster said. “We are different in some aspects and we need to recognize that.”
The goal, Foster notes, is to have better coordination and cooperation between the two departments, resulting in higher quality policing and cost savings. Foster projects the plan could even result in a savings to Grass Valley’s budget; Wickham said it will not increase his budget.
Wickham said response times will be monitored to ensure they aren’t substantially increased.
“There will not be a notable change in police presence,” he said. “I think the community will see a better response to address incidents and investigation follow up.”
Wickham also points to a clause in the outlined agreement that allows either department to back out of the deal instantly.
“I will be talking with those (Grass Valley Police) officers and they understand our police philosophy,” Wickham said. “I have confidence in John and his officers will make it work.”
The matter will first be deliberated by the Grass Valley City Council during its Tuesday meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at the town’s city hall, located at 125 East Main St. The following day, Nevada City will discuss the proposal during its Wednesday meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, located at 317 Broad St.
If approved, Wickham said the expanded cooperation could begin as soon as the first part of July.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained an inaccurate figure. The Nevada City Police Department’s $1.57 million operating budget for fiscal year 2013/2014 represents a nearly $80,000 decline from the 2012/2013 midyear adjustment, according to Finance Director Catrina Olson. The Union regrets the error.