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Calexico addresses officer shortage

January 30, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — The Police Department here is short nine officers. Months ago, the department was short 13 officers.

During Tuesday night's city police commission meeting, commissioner Daniel Gutierrez asked Police Chief Mario Sanchez, "How many officers do we have now?"

Sanchez responded, "36."

Gutierrez mulled that number. The department is budgeted for 45 officers.

Commissioner Guillermo Matus asked what had happened in recent salary negotiations between the City Council and the police officers' association.

Officers were given a 10 percent base salary raise and will get another 2 percent bump when the benefit package is taken into consideration.

"They (the council) couldn't do any better?" Matus asked.

Commissioner Danny Silva said if the council doesn't increase wages to the standard of other departments in the state, "We're going to have that same revolving door!"


Contacted this morning, police Sgt. Jim Neujahr said the rank-and-file officers are happy with the deal brokered with the council.

"The City Council understands the problem and they're doing anything in their power to solve it," Neujahr said.

Answering a similar response from Sanchez during Tuesday's meeting, Matus said, "This year they could have asked for more."

Silva said, "I'm not here to point fingers" but said Calexico officers are paid less than those at other departments in the state.

Matus said, "It's been like that for years."

Silva said, "We can't say it's been like that for years! We have to more forward! Before they used to give us badges and now they don't. The past is gone. Wages here are below market! We have to find a solution."

Silva, the drug-elimination coordinator for the Calexico Housing Authority, continued, "Security and safety is at hand! Gangs are moving here from Los Angeles. We have six gangs here now."

Matus said, "That's the first time I heard about that … six gangs."

The commissioners talked about preventive measures to combat gang influence before returning to wage issues.

Matus said, "I don't want to go to bat for the police association when they refuse to come here and ask for help."

An association member said the commission has been critical of the Police Department in the past. That history affects the climate between the two autonomous groups.

In the past, the commission had power vested by the City Council to act as a sort of a watchdog organization. A couple years ago that power was stripped by the City Council after the city attorney said he thought the commission's investigations into the department could create a sticky legal situation for the city. The bylaws of the commission were changed to reinforce its role as an advisory committee.

In other business during Tuesday's meeting, Silva touted the idea of making the city of Calexico a "drug-free zone" so anyone arrested for selling or possession of drugs here would face stiffer penalties than in other cities.

Silva said he doesn't think the creation of a "zone" would eliminate drug traffic or use, but, he said, "It's a deterrent! We pass an ordinance and everyone in the world knows not to come here. They'll go somewhere else."

Sanchez told Silva there are already laws that address drug sales and possession.

As far as passing an ordinance, it would still be up to the district attorney to prosecute the cases even if an ordinance called for higher fines or sentences, he added.

District Attorney Gilbert Otero has not commented publicly on a "drug-free zone."

Silva said, "Mr. Otero might not give us the blessing but if we have the ordinance it would give him the choice whether to prosecute or not."

No action was taken on Silva's idea. It will be brought back before the commission.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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