Our View: Nevada City police issues are not unique | TheUnion.com

Our View: Nevada City police issues are not unique

Nevada City is, by definition, a unique place.

Its spot in the foothills, its cozy shops and winding roads, its colorful parades and celebrations — they all mesh together to make this city one of a kind.

The city has an identity, a key aspect interim Police Chief Ted Stec referenced when talking to the Nevada City Council about the police department.

At the heart of this discussion was the future of the department. An evaluation of police stemmed from the Aug. 9, 2020, counter-protest that turned violent, as well as officer retention. Stec’s purpose before the council was to deliver the results of that evaluation.

The result: A unanimous vote by the City Council to keep its police department.

It’s easy to roll your eyes at this decision. The events of Aug. 9, stated in an after-action report, certainly weren’t helped by officers who “were insufficiently trained and equipped to handle the protest.” This counter-protest put Nevada City on a map no community wants to be on. Its effects are being felt now in officer retention and morale. People will point to that date for years when making arguments about this police department.

But if policing powers were lost by fully contracting out those services — something Mayor Duane Strawser said was never on the table — the city would, in a way, lose a piece of itself. It would have no real control over its level of policing. It wouldn’t have its own insignia on its cars.

Officers are drawn to Nevada City because of its uniqueness, Stec said, but they’re thinly spread. The city is authorized to have 12 officers, including the chief. It currently has an interim chief, two sergeants and four patrol officers. The department’s budget is around $2.3 million, which is roughly 40% of Nevada City’s budget.

The thought seems to be, let’s address the problems the police department faces instead of tearing out all the pages and writing something new.

Police will still face criticism. Anyone working for the government should expect that. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, elected officials — anyone getting paid by tax dollars is constantly under the microscope. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

But it’s tough to spin “insufficiently trained and equipped to handle the protest” in any way other than negative, so let’s be upfront about it. Nevada City police couldn’t handle the Aug. 9 protest. It’s that simple.

In his report, Stec listed several issues his department faces, including low morale from high turnover, too many interim chiefs over the years, low staffing, and the current nationwide sentiment toward law enforcement.

It almost makes you think the city should do away with its police department entirely and just contract out the services.

That’s too pat an answer, though, one without nuance or understanding. The people of Nevada City, as represented by their City Council, have decided they want their own police department.

It’s a more difficult road, as self-governance always is, but it’s their choice — and that makes it the right choice.

There are several questions the city must address when taking this road, if public comment and sentiment are any indication. Do people feel safe walking their streets and in their own homes? Are police properly patrolling the downtown area? Are they handing out citations for smoking violations? Is there accountability to the people of Nevada City?

In short, are folks getting the service they pay for?

Nothing changes overnight, and this is an issue Nevada City will struggle with over the years. The city needs a permanent police chief and a fully staffed department. Relationships between police and the people must be built and maintained. Budgets have to be drafted, revised and approved.

All this is nothing new, as towns and cities across the country deal with issues like this every day.

Nevada City may be unique, but its problems sure aren’t.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com

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