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Tunson vows to protect Calexico despite officer shortage

June 12, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — This city's police chief vowed his department will protect and serve the citizens of Calexico despite a shortage of peace officers.

At a press conference Monday in City Hall, Chief Tommy Tunson outlined his plans to buttress the city against what he called a rising tide of gang activity, drug trafficking and automobile traffic, despite the loss of seven officers in the past month and a half.

The first plan he unveiled will create crime-fighting duos "to address selected community issues." The chief calls the teams "police area representatives."

Four officers in teams of two will patrol the city proactively, looking for malfeasance instead of responding to it, according to Tunson.

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The "A Team" will be two officers solely responsible for traffic concerns. The concerns mentioned by Tunson include: drag racing, speeding on streets near schools, illegal truck parking and traffic flow into Mexico.

The "B Team" will be two plainclothes officers who will interact with the community and work with citizens to prevent any "mischief" within city limits.

"Mischief" includes gang warfare, drive-by shootings such as the recent ones on Milpitas Drive and other violent crimes.

The plainclothes aspect of the "B Team" is important, according to Tunson, because he wants the community to work with these officers to help protect itself.

The second plan he showcased is the department's upcoming Citizens Police Academy.

On Thursday, Tunson and staff will conduct an academy to give Calexico residents a chance to learn more about the inner workings of the Police Department.

Tunson hopes to fill the first class and start a chain reaction of learning when the members of the first graduating class get out into the community and pass knowledge of the Police Department to their neighbors.

"It will be held 7 to 10 on Thursday nights. At the end of 12 weeks citizens will get a diploma," Tunson said.

He said it will be the only citizens police academy in the county.

Concerned citizens and all City Council members listened to Tunson's plans and asked some questions.

Mayor Pro Tem John Renison wanted to know if the chief had considered retention programs to keep officers in Calexico.

"We have to pay more. We get the salaries even with El Centro and Brawley and that will solve the problem right there," Tunson said.

The City Council sets the pay level for all city employees.

Mayor Victor Carrillo addressed the pay disparity.

"We would like to pay all of our city employees more but at the same time I realize that the blood that runs through a police officer is different than that of other municipal employees," Carrillo said.

He said the City Council will be discussing the concerns of the police and fire departments and other city departments at an upcoming budget workshop.

The undergirding focus of those discussions will be public safety, Carrillo said.

"When the focus is on public safety the focus is on the Police Department and how it affects the welfare of our community. We need to address these issues in the Police Department."

Carrillo asked Tunson what was being done to staff a department that is budgeted to operate with 45 officers but is operating with 32.

Tunson said he has representatives scouring three academies in Southern California.

He added the department will start an outreach in the community to attract "homegrown" peace officers.

Councilman Javier Alatorre wanted to know if there had been any changes in the internal affairs operations within the department after two officers were charged with crimes in the space of two months.

Tunson said the key word is "Vigilance."

"We have the controls already in place. I have told my officers that our ethics will be above reproach," he said.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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