A new report on police services is recommending that the Town of Danville may be better served financially by either forming its own police department or contracting out with a new provider.
Earlier this year the town approved a contract with Matrix Consulting Group to conduct a study of police services in town in order to determine if the ongoing contract with the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department was the most cost effective option available.
At the Nov. 17 meeting, Matrix President Richard Brady provided the Town Council with the results of the study as well as his recommendations to best benefit Danville. Brady said that the study looked at several areas in regards to policing in Danville, such as the quality and effectiveness of current levels of law enforcement services; means of enhancing service levels; examination of management costs for alternative forms of law enforcement delivery; and alternative service models.
In introducing the study, Town Manager Joe Calabrigo gave a brief background, concluding by reminding the council that contracting the review in no way reflected on the service currently being provided by the sheriff's department.
"I would emphasize as we have through the process that since 1982 the town has contracted with the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office and the town has been very satisfied with that service," he stated. "It is not due to any issues or problems we've had that has prompted this study."
Brady said that overall the service being provided by the sheriff's department has been very high quality. The only caveat he placed on the rating was that there could be some improvement in the amount of "proactive time" spent by officers. In the overnight shifts, the amount of time spent on proactive policing was above 40 percent, while the day shift was below. Brady said this average put them right at the 40 percent level, but he felt there was some room to increase those numbers.
He also recommended that the town look at two other methods of freeing up police officers time. The first would be to examine alternative means of responding to calls.
"Look at different ways of dealing with low level crimes. There are mail-in reports, Internet reports that you can do if you're just looking for information for an insurance report. The idea is to maximize that proactive time," he explained.
The second was to implement Tactical Action Plans to direct and manage patrol officers time.
"There are some other agencies in this area that have quite a reputation for proactively using their time," he said. Walnut Creek was one agency he mentioned as having a good handle on the tactical plans.
While the town does get solid service in its contract with the sheriff's department, the concern is the cost. Brady said that because of the ongoing issues with the county's retirement program, costs are going to continue to increase. If forecasts are accurate, Brady said the town could go from spending $7.5 million this year to as much as $8.3 million next year.
He suggested that seeking out an alternative method of law enforcement may be more cost effective than staying with the current contract. The study examined three possibilities for a different provider from the sheriff's department:
• Partnering with Lafayette and Orinda on a Joint Powers Agreement
• Contracting with another provider such as San Ramon or Walnut Creek
• Starting a Town of Danville Police Department
"All the service alternatives appear to be more cost effective in the short term than with the Sheriff's Department," he said.
Further analysis showed that of those three, the most likely would be for the town to create its own police force. Brady said the Joint Powers Agreement would not work due to geography, and contracting out with Walnut Creek would be difficult to set up as the city would need to expand its own police force by as much as 50 percent in order to provide the service.
Brady said that if the Town of Danville created a police force, the expected cost would be around $7.6 million per year. He added that there would be ancillary costs involved, such as $1.5 million in transition costs in getting the new department up and running. The process would take about 18 months. On the plus side, the town already owns police cars and the police building so those startup costs would not be needed.
Council members were interested in the idea, but had several questions. Councilwoman Candace Andersen questioned the numbers used to determine the expected increases in county retirement costs.
"We spoke with the fiscal managers of those departments," Brady explained. "They're the ones who have to deal with those figures."
Councilman Mike Doyle said he would be willing to entertain the idea, just so they have some continuity in the upper management at the Police Department. Generally, a police chief in Danville stays at the post for about fve years and then is rotated back into duty at the sheriff's department. Doyle said he doesn't like that practice.
"We have these gentlemen doing a great job and every time I look around, they're gone. The 'long blue line,' I call it," Doyle said.
After the discussion, council members directed staff to examine how creating a police department would impact the town's organizational structure.
"We now have to look at the cost of changing our whole organization," said Mayor Newell Arnerich. "We need more HR people, our insurance, our retirement policies have to be equalized. So we have to look at all that and see if it's still cost effective, so that's the next level."