Police chief anxiously awaits funds

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 - 12:18 am

By law, Police Chief Eric Jones is prohibited from engaging in city politics, such as using his position to campaign for a tax increase going before voters next month that could dramatically expand his force.

But nothing’s stopping him from talking about how he intends to implement the Marshall Plan on Crime that the tax would fund, if voters pass it.

“We need the Marshall Plan,” he said. “We need at least 120 (more) officers. It needs to be funded. The sooner we get funding, the better.”

Jones, 41, was sworn in as chief of the Stockton Police Department on March 1, 2012, inheriting a force in crisis. Officers were leaving the department in droves, the city had just filed for bankruptcy, and street violence was at an all-time high.

Since then, homicides have fallen, but Stockton remains on course to end the year as California’s second-most violent city.

Jones calls the need for more officers desperate.

Property crimes are up, and Jones said he still hears frustration from residents dialing 911 who can’t get an officer to respond in a timely manner. The detective unit is slim, and Jones has no narcotics unit.

Measures A and B, which will go on the Nov. 5 ballot, would give Stockton a projected $28 million a year by increasing the sales tax by three-fourths of a cent to 9 percent.

If passed, one-third of the money would go toward paying Stockton’s debts, while the rest would go to the Marshall Plan, a strategy developed over a year targeting the criminal-justice system that goes beyond Stockton’s city limits.

With more officers, Jones envisions a return to decreased response times, greater visibility for his officers and more proactive police work.

“It comes down to the bodies,” he said. “You need police staff and non-sworn support staff. The plan is there.”

He is hardly alone. Councilman Elbert Holman said people don’t ask him about the fine points of the Marshall Plan. They do want more officers to make their neighborhoods safer, he said.

The plan is a holistic approach to fixing a broken countywide criminal-justice system, Holman said.

It involves creating an office focused on violence reduction and puts Stockton, the city in San Joaquin County with the most crime, at the center of driving local reforms in the criminal justice system.

And Holman said that plans includes giving Jones a staffing boost.

“I feel really good about putting 120 more officers in the hands of Eric Jones,” Holman said. “I have confidence in our police chief.”

Jones said his officers continue to run from one crime scene to the next. With 120 more officers under the city’s crime-fighting plan, he will embark on new programs and revive existing efforts, Jones said. They include:

• Neighborhood blitz: This code-enforcement driven effort sends a team into a neighborhood to diagnose and address what ails it – transience, graffiti, trash dumping and vacant homes.

• Call responses: Residents express frustration that officers take too long to respond to calls, if they come at all. With more officers, Jones said, residents will be better served.

• Project Ceasefire: Already in existence, it involves calling in known gang leaders who are offered a path out of crime and told of the consequences for continuing this lifestyle. The city has held two call-ins and plans a third.

• Hot-spot maintenance: Jones said officers would stay at crime scenes and return to keep the neighborhood from “slipping back” to problems.

• Narcotics unit: While Stockton officers work on a countywide unit, the city hasn’t had a narcotics unit since deep budget cuts made in the economic recession. Stockton has a drug problem but no dedicated unit, Jones said.

Read more articles by Scott Smith



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