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West Sacramento sales tax increase would help recruit police by raising salaries

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The West Sacramento Police Department now wears body cameras.
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The West Sacramento Police Department now wears body cameras.

West Sacramento, struggling to recruit high-quality police officers, is likely to ask voters in November to increase the city's sales tax to raise lagging police salaries.

The City Council is expected to vote Monday to place a quarter-cent sales tax on the ballot, Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said last month in a meeting with The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board. The increase would bump the city's sales tax to 8.25 percent, and raise an estimated $3.4 million for "public safety and investments in inclusive economic development and community improvements."

As nearby cities like Sacramento, Roseville and Davis have increased their police officers' salaries in recent years, West Sacramento has seen an exodus of talent and a lack of new officers. The issue reached a breaking point over the last year, West Sacramento Police Officers' Association Vice President Nick Barreiro said.

"It used to be we’d open up a position and would immediately have to close it a couple hours later" after receiving hundreds of applications, he said. Now, West Sacramento barely manages to attract 10 people.

"The last few rounds of recruitment that we’ve done, we haven’t been able to get any experienced officers, lateral officers from other agencies, or even academy graduates," he said.

The only remedy is for the dozen or so inexperienced people who apply to attend police academy on the city's own dime, Barreiro said, which "puts quite a long timeline" on officers' effectiveness.

West Sacramento's police officers, who earn between $70,000 and $85,000 a year, are paid about 17 percent less than the average for the region, Barreiro said. If voters pass the sales tax, the city's force will be brought up to about average pay – just in time.

"If it had gone on too much longer, then I’m afraid that we'd have seen a big increase in the response time to calls" due to a reduced police force, Barreiro said. "Before, if we would have gotten a 911 call for an emergency, you would almost always have an officer show up within a couple of minutes. … I was afraid that we were going to start seeing the kind of wait times you see in Sacramento County or in the city of Sacramento, where sometimes you're calling 911 and you're not getting anyone showing up for 45 minutes."

Barreiro said some damage has already been done with veteran officers leaving for better-paying jobs.

"Hopefully now we’ve been able to stop the major bleeding and hopefully we’ll be able to do some better recruiting with our new contract," Barreiro said.

The quality of officers West Sacramento is able to attract and hire is also affected by a lack of robust recruiting, Cabaldon said. After all, a smaller applicant pool means fewer officers from which to choose.

"We do need to be able to attract officers who are good, who are talented, who can make good decisions and who are in it for the right reasons," Cabaldon said. "It is all about those people. Our policies can reinforce the intuition of good people, but they can’t substitute for it."

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