An explosion in San Ramon's youth population has the police department reconsidering its youth policing strategies. In a report to the City Council on Feb. 12, Captain Joe Gorton said the department is assessing its comprehensive approach to safety, crime prevention and dealing with juvenile offenders.
Since 2003, the city's youth population has swollen to nearly a third of the total population. While San Ramon Police's current juvenile service model is at the forefront of the profession, challenging times and limited resources have officials looking to scale back on several programs.
"The Council had created a goal for this year and also into next year of looking at police staffing and service needs and this is just a slice of it," said City Manager Greg Rogers. " (Police) were looking at taking the current resources and trying to redeploy them."
City officials are working on the 2013-14 budget, but San Ramon Police were budgeted $16,633,000 for the 2012-13 fiscal year. Of that, $618,413 was allocated for youth services and $208,346 for the Character Counts program,which teaches youth six "pillars" of character and reinforces basic life skills and values being taught at home.
SRPD currently offers a variety of services in partnership with the school district and county probation department to fulfill needs at all school levels. Chief among those programs is the department's two school resource officers (SRO), who serve each high school with in hopes of reducing criminal activity on campus, student suspensions for violent incidents.
"We're aware that there's budget conversations going on now that's why I've integrated lesser alternatives as well as pie in the sky, best practices cases," Chief Gorton said.
Although best practices would have an additional SRO to serve middle school campuses, Gorton's report suggested scaling the program back to one position that would cover both high schools. Officers are on campus four days a week commiserate with the traditional police schedule, Gorton noted, adding that before and after-school activities prevent an officer from always being on campus.
The department also has one youth resource officer (YRO) at the middle school level who receives referrals from SROs and does early intervention for youth, who may begin engaging in risky behavior at an early age. The SRO also coordinates the Diversion Program, an alternative to filing misdemeanor and felony charges against first time youth offenders.
Gorton said the department has considered eliminating the position and allowing investigations division detectives to absorb the YRO's modified duties.
"Most of the core services of the YRO to include much of the Diversion Program would have to be eliminated," Gorton noted.
Still Diversion could be handled by the one investigations detectives, though three of the program's alternative options -- community service, a youth court where the offender's peers determine the length of community service and family counseling at the Discovery Center in Danville -- would be removed.
As part of its five-point restructuring strategy, Gorton said the department would retool its elementary-level programs. New juvenile policing strategy would eliminate the Character Counts and redistribute the one outreach officer to the My Beat My School program, where day shift and swing beat officers perform outreach and traffic safety to elementary school youth and parents as part of their collateral duties.
Gorton said SRPD may also nix its Parent Project, a 10-week activity based course that helps parents reduce family conflict, intervene in negative peer associations and generally improve communication. The program was underutilized and expensive; as an alternative to cancellation police officials are considering using residents instead of sworn officers to teach the course.
"Lowering the intensity or something like that, using civilians instead of sworn officer in some circumstances, makes a lot of sense to me," said Councilmember Phil O'Loane.
In a stakeholder analysis of school principals, the county probation department and SRPD officers, Gorton said all schools requested additional services and police found the Character Counts program ineffective. The department then developed a set of five goals to prioritize services:
- Retool Character Counts into a third SRO dedicated to middle schools. Along with My Beat My School officers, the SRO would deliver a scaled back version of Character Counts.
- Collaborate with other agencies to develop an alternative to the Parent Project to reduce costs.
- Develop a program that teams officers with children to celebrate and teach about the city's cultural diversity.
- Partner with middle schools to create a monthly safety oriented program with SROs using the schools' AV system.
- Formally benchmark the department's programs against similarly structured agencies on an annual basis to assure quality.
All goals could be implemented on the current budget, Gortin noted.
"It's always, in my experience, difficult for a group to say something that they're doing doesn't necessarily work really well and I think you've done a real good job on saying where money can be best spent," O'Loane continued.
In the future, police officials will present additional reports on service levels but City Manager Rogers said the San Ramon is not in a position to hire new officers.
"If the strategy says we need new officers, we would have to go to the Council and get more appropriations and get position allocation" he said.