Our Opinion: Strengthening the force

June 05, 2001

With the arrest two weeks ago of Calexico police Officer Jose Angel Perry on drug importation charges and the expected termination of Officer Patrick Kevin Estrada for an alleged sexual relationship with a teen he later married, combined with other departures, the Calexico police force has taken some fairly severe staffing blows in recent months.

Those high-profile losses aside, the real turmoil revolving around the department has to do with the loss of numerous officers to other police departments in and outside the Imperial Valley because of pay, or lack thereof in the city of Calexico's case.

The Calexico Police Department's budget allows for 45 officers. However, the department is down to 33 officers, depending on the fate of Perry, Estrada and another officer going through the department's administrative disciplinary process.

The lack of officers is unacceptable for Calexico. With a base population of 27,000, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau numbers, conservative estimates have Calexico swelling to the likes of a city of 80,000 with the daily influx of those crossing north from Mexicali.


Understandably, Calexico doesn't have the revenue streams available to border communities such as San Ysidro for larger base salaries for its officers. Still, the Calexico City Council and city officials must find ways to provide their officers with a living wage or at least some sort of incentive package that would not only lure new officers but retain them.

Calexico suffers both from the inability to draw recent police academy grads and keeping recent recruits. The problem with the former is serious, the problem with the latter is even more serious.

The rookies who do come to Calexico, police officials have said, are basically in training for their first year and usually don't patrol without some sort of experienced supervision. All that costs the department. And then when they are experienced enough to be in the field, some have been known to take that experience to better-paying departments.

This problem needs to be addressed for the sake of all Calexicans' safety. While police officials have said the dearth of officers will not affect the department's ability to serve the community, it does send a message.

The nature of police work calls for the officer to put his or her life on the line to serve and protect those in the community. But if those officers don't feel they're being appreciated, they're not going to stay.

We don't profess to have an answer to this dilemma, but it's not like this is a new problem for Calexico, whose officers have long complained of being the lowest paid in comparison to cities of similar size such as Brawley and El Centro.

Sure, with Perry and Estrada the Calexico Police Department has had its share of high-profile problems. But, for the most part, the department is filled with caring officers, many of whom were born and raised in Calexico and many of whom would like to remain there. What they need to do that is incentives.

It is up to the Calexico City Council to decide what those incentives should be, but those inducements obviously need to come soon.

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