The $43 million general fund budget, which funds city operations for the next year, promises to beef up law enforcement in Antioch with the hiring of seven new sworn police officers, two more community service officers, another code enforcement officer, an assistant city attorney, and two more police dispatchers.
But Councilman Arne Simonsen considers that promise to be an empty one, as far as the police force is concerned. Currently, there are 11 unfilled vacancies on the force, and the new budget has a 'vacancy factor' that assumes that about eight percent of the officer positions won't be filled in the coming year.
'If we add new positions and there are not warm bodies in the positions we've already allocated, we're lying to the public,' said Simonsen at the June 27 council meeting. 'I'm not going to be a part of a charade to the public, saying, 'Hey, we're adding seven more positions.' There ain't no warm bodies there.'
Councilmen Jim Davis and Jim Conley are both up for re-election to the council in November. Simonsen did not mention them by name but implied that their ambitions were factors in their support of the hiring of additional officers, although the idea for the additional officers was brought up by Councilman Brian Kalinowski, who is not up for re-election.
'I think it's great in an election year,' said Simonsen. 'I know Mr. Kalinowski is not up this year but a couple others are, and it's not really being honest. Unless you guys are going to free up the money. Because we heard in the budget that the positions we have now are allocated and unfunded. We are going to add seven more allocated and unfunded positions. That's not really being honest.'
Davis did not respond to the charge of engaging in deception to win re-election, but Conley blasted back at Simonsen, who is not up for re-election to the council but is running for a seat in the State Assembly.
'I take personal offense to think that I would support this during an election year,' said Conley. 'I think that comes from somebody who just thinks about elections and doesn't think about the people of Antioch or service to the city or the protection of the people of the city.
'I don't believe that we're going to hire 10 police officers or 15 officers in the next year. I think that it's reasonable to hire eight or nine; hopefully we get more. I don't do this knowing that we're going to have a vacancy factor. I support this because we need to have a commitment to increase our police force, and we need to make that commitment in the budget process.'
The council was originally going to budget for only two more police officers, until Kalinowski suggested that it up the hiring by five more to a total of seven to respond to residents' increasing complaints about a deteriorating quality of life in Antioch.
'It's been a constant theme since I've been on the council, which is six years, is police services, police response, quality of life issues, what's the council doing to address it, it's going downhill, we're not responsive,' said Kalinowski, who is a law enforcement officer in the County Sheriff's Department.
'As we move forward in the community ... clearly the calls for service continue to go up and the criminal element continues to take advantage of the situation locally. And I feel a responsibility, being a police officer and working side by side with these women and men in the city Antioch, to do everything that I can do as a council member because I'm fortunate enough to serve this community.'
Kalinowski acknowledged that budgeting for seven new officers doesn't mean they'll be patrolling Antioch's streets next week. But he said it's important to send the right message that the city will be getting tougher on criminals.
'I think (we are) making the statement that our goal is to get these folks hired, to get them on line, and that we are raising that (officer-to-residents) ratio because we are going to be aggressive here in this community to protect the residents and to protect our quality of life,' said Kalinowski.
'We are sending these folks in to places with solo officers or two officers when, quite frankly, we need to have a force presence. We need to make a statement in this community and we need to take the streets back.
'I can't go on any longer without pushing the envelope to the maximum and making this request of council for consideration. I think it goes a long way for the community. And not belittling what we've done or minimizing what we've done in the past, we've said enough is enough and we're going to be aggressive and we're going to move forward and we're going to take the town back.'
As an incentive to bring in more police officers, the council also approved a $10,000 bonus that would go to police officers in other cities who quit there and transfer to work in Antioch. The bonus matches the incentive offered by Brentwood and makes Antioch more competitive in an increasingly tough hiring market for police officers.
Kalinowski responded to Simonsen's charge that the council is misleading the public with the added police hiring, and explained further why the extra officers are needed.
'I don't think I could disagree with you more,' Kalinowski said to Simonsen. 'The reality is that the city of Antioch is the fourth most violent city per capita in this county. We are the lowest officer-per-thousand (residents) ratio. And we spend the least amount of money per resident on police services in this city compared to every other city, with the exception of the contract cities with the office of the sheriff. So the reality is that resources need to be placed.
'There's a disagreement about that. And I guess we can respectfully disagree. It's not a charade or an attempt to mislead. And the convenience of bringing this up when I'm not running for re-election or election for any position is that this is my true, honest feeling.
'Somebody made the comment to me a couple weeks ago that 'You know, I just don't see it bad enough yet in the city of Antioch.' And I'm thinking, are you kidding me already? You don't see it bad enough in the city of Antioch yet? In 2003 (Antioch was) the second most violent city in the county behind Richmond. In 2004 the fourth most violent city in the county behind Richmond, San Pablo and El Cerrito.
'If we continue to deploy those numbers (of officers) we'll never get on top of it; the community will continue to deteriorate. And we will see the effects of it.'
Mayor Don Freitas voted with Kalinowski, Conley and Davis to hire the extra five officers, but he also pointed out that the cost would probably wipe out the small budget surplus that the city would have had in the general fund in the coming year.
With the expenses of salary, bonus, benefits, equipment and a police car, each new officer could cost the city $125,000 or more per year - an extra $625,000 annual hit to the budget from the extra five officers.
Freitas asked outgoing Chief Mark Moczulski if perhaps some of that $625,000 might be better spent retaining Antioch's current officers and used as bonus to attract outside officers. But Moczulski, who was speaking at his last council meeting before retiring as chief, responded that getting more officers on patrol is vital in Antioch.
'Although we've hired 17 officers over the last five years, our per capita staffing ratio has actually declined and we are the lowest per capita staffed department in Contra Costa County, which places a tremendous strain on the department,' said Moczulski.
'One of the reasons many of our officers are leaving here is because of the workload. If you don't hire additional officers you're still going to have the workload that you have.'
After the council had voted to approve the seven officers but before taking the final vote to approve the budget, Simonsen sought to soften his criticism of his fellow council members while reiterating his concerns that hiring the extra officers could become a budget buster down the road.
'To me the action was rash tonight,' said Simonsen. 'I understand we all want this to be a nice town. But you can't legislate the way people's behavior is. I don't know if this helps the situation, but I'm concerned about the future budgets and our ability to look after the other departments that have been neglected or the additional things with the folks with the youth NAACP and the programs that they would like.
'What does it do to our ability to build a community center at Prewett Park? Where are we going to come up with the money now for the operation and maintenance of it, let alone the ability to build a library and operate and maintain it?
'I understand where everyone is coming from, I really do. I understand our passions. I mean no one disrespect up here whatsoever. I agree, we all have the same goal. People may write and say that none of us care what goes on here and we have no desire to make this a nice community, and that's plain BS. Everyone up here has the same passion as the mayor, period.'