Nevada City Council tables proposed police collaboration
June 14, 2013
After more than an hour of contentious debate Wednesday, Nevada City's council told its police chief to head back to the drawing board with Grass Valley's chief to more clearly articulate the joint proposal to facilitate a detective position between the two towns.
Of primary concern for skeptical council members was the part of the six-month collaborative pilot plan that calls for the Nevada City Police Department not to staff an officer position between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.
Instead, Grass Valley officers would patrol its neighboring jurisdiction's streets during those statistically low-incident hours, which interim NCPD Chief Jim Wickham said would allow his agency to instead allocate that full-time position to the proposed shared detective.
Currently, without a designated detective of its own, Nevada City's officers investigate cases on top of their regular duties — something that Grass Valley Police Department officers are also doing, even though that agency has one investigative position, said its Sgt. Steve Johnson, who would supervise the shared detective.
“There is a big concern about having this be a precedent of blending two departments.”
— Nevada City Councilwoman Jennifer Ray
"I don't see this at all as Grass Valley taking a body or stealing a body," Johnson said. "This is simply a sharing of resources."
Little disagreement was heard Wednesday on the benefits of the shared detective to both departments.
Instead, Nevada City's council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Terri Andersen dissenting, to direct NCPD Chief Jim Wickham, along with City Manager David Brennan, to meet with their respective Grass Valley counterparts to specify how Grass Valley officers would potentially patrol Nevada City.
Not only did the council request a guarantee that Grass Valley officers would patrol Nevada City streets beyond responding to calls for service but also directed the two police departments to provide monthly reports about the calls for service during those early morning hours.
"We've been doing this already. We're just making it more formalized with patrol backing each other up," Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster said.
If Wickham wants the shared resource experiment to begin by the beginning of July, Councilwoman Sally Harris told him that he would need to have council's demands spelled out in writing by the council's June 26 meeting.
"I think that is the benefit of the pilot program," said NCPD Officer Tucker Huey. "We can evaluate it. If it doesn't work, we can correct it. If it does, we can proceed."
The setback in the proposed collaboration came the night after Grass Valley's city council unanimously approved the concept at its regularly scheduled meeting.
Beyond the heavily debated concern about whether Grass Valley officers would be able to respond to Nevada City incidents in a way that its residents have come to expect from their own officers, Andersen also pressed Wickham and Foster about whose policies would take precedence.
While Wickham and Foster guaranteed that Grass Valley officers would enforce Nevada City ordinances, such as Nevada City's homeless-curbing camping ordinance, the pair conceded that Grass Valley officers would operate on their own use-of-force and pursuit policies even in Nevada City.
Council members also expressed concerns about a perception that the shared detective in exchange for early-morning patrol support is a precursor to a Grass Valley takeover of Nevada City's police department.
"There is a big concern about having this be a precedent of blending two departments," said Councilwoman Jennifer Ray. "We have to be clear that this is not what this is about if we go forward with it."
In his introduction to the topic Wednesday, Brennan noted that Nevada City's increased sales tax approved by voters in November to prop up city services has only a five-year duration.
With the city employee pension obligation expected to see as much as a 50 percent increase due to a state mandate, Brennan noted that the two chiefs' proposal is an example of an opportunity to move toward sustainability.
"If we are going to continue to do things as usual, we should expect to get the same result," Brennan said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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