To cut overall costs and have sufficient money for officer pay hikes, the Ventura Police Department has closed its station to nonemergency business on weekends and holidays, the chief said Wednesday.
The move means that people wanting copies of police or fire reports or those hoping to clear up a minor "fix-it" ticket by showing an officer a repaired headlight must now do so on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Last Sunday marked the final day of weekend hours at the Ventura station. Emergency service is not affected by the cuts.
"Part of my job is to make sure we are getting the best we can with what we have," Police Chief Mike Tracy said. "If this only affects the 15 or so people who use it on weekends, how do we weigh that against a cut in another area like a DARE or a K-9 officer?"
Officers with the Drug Awareness Resistance Education help educate youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol; K-9 units team an officer and a trained police dog to sniff out illegal drugs in cars and homes.
On average, Tracy said, 10 to 15 residents come to the station on Dowell Drive for nonemergency business on Saturdays. Another five or so come in on Sundays, he added.
Before city leaders would approve the Police Department's $18.2-million annual budget last month, Tracy said, he had to slash about $100,000.
By cutting weekend and holiday hours, Tracy was able to eliminate one civilian position--that of a police services officer. Salary and benefits for one such officer are about $52,000.
The department has about a dozen services officers who work both in-house and in the field. They are unarmed and their primary duty is to write reports and handle traffic detail.
The particular position that was eliminated was already vacant, so no employee was fired to make the cost cut, Tracy said.
He said if the loss of services proved to be too inconvenient, reinstating weekend and holiday hours would be considered.
The remainder of the budget cuts, about $48,000, were made in several smaller funds used for uniforms, certain nonessential equipment and office supplies, Tracy said.
Some of the savings will be used to pay out raises to the department's 124 sworn officers, the chief said.
To provide Ventura police officers parity with those at similar-size agencies in the county and state, their union negotiated a three-year contract in 1997 that gave officers raises twice a year.
A final raise of 4% goes into effect today, Tracy said. The average salary for a Ventura police officer who has been on the job about four years is $53,400.
Tracy's decision to cut the station's public hours follows an announcement by him and other police chiefs in Ventura County to rally for more money for public safety.
While the county's Sheriff's Department has enjoyed a windfall of Proposition 172 money, municipal police departments have been struggling to keep pace with inflation.
The half-cent sales tax of Proposition 172, approved by voters in 1993, allowed the Sheriff's Department to receive about $28 million this year compared to $482,000 given to the Ventura Police Department.
The Sheriff's Department, though, provides several key services to area cities, including jails, helicopters and certain crime suppression forces.