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Over the past year, a third party firm provided an operational assessment of the Oceanside Police Department, recommending hiring more staff to improve operations. Photo courtesy of OPD
Over the past year, a third party firm provided an operational assessment of the Oceanside Police Department, recommending hiring more staff to improve operations. Photo courtesy of OPD
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Oceanside police may hire more staff over the next few years

OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside Police Department will hire more staff over the next several years to help improve operations based on an independent consultant’s assessment and recommendations.

The city hired Citygate Associates, a local governance consulting firm, over a year ago to conduct an organizational and operational assessment of the police department. According to former Police Chief Fred Armijo in his final report to the council before retirement, the assessment was the first of its kind for the department since the late 1980s.

The firm presented its findings to the City Council at the March 22 meeting after a year of gathering public input through citywide surveys and district community meetings, reviewing department data and interviewing department staff.

“It’s not a bad report card, this is a best practice tuneup,” said Stewart Gary, public safety principal at Citygate Associates. “You have a vibrant, strong organization that wants to continue to meet the needs of Oceanside and is going to need some help along the way in terms of the strategies we’re about to recommend.”

According to the report, OPD has experienced a steady decline in the number of officer-initiated activities due to a shortage in staff and increased time committed to responding to calls for service.

Officer-initiated activity includes work that proactively addresses common neighborhood complaints and concerns rather than simply responding to a call for service.

Armijo explained that as staffing issues continue to grow, the amount of free time officers have to initiate their own investigative patrol times has decreased. This is in part due to how policing has changed to implement a more methodical approach to responses.

For example, Armijo said with incidents involving armed suspects, the police use a more cautious, methodical approach, whereas 15 to 20 years ago, a few officers would be tasked to respond to such an incident with the use of force.

“Nowadays, we’re a heck of a lot more thoughtful in our approach, which eats into our available time, but I’ll take the more methodical approach,” Armijo said.

Approximately 70 action items were recommended to the police department, most of which address vacant staff positions, including: hiring a deputy police chief; adding three sergeants with each dedicated to the three different patrol shifts; converting its gang unit and crime analysts to full-time; adding two administrative crime analysts; adding one records specialist for evidence and public records handling; reclassifying the field evidence technician role and delegating its duties to officers; adding one DUI investigator and one motors officer to the traffic unit; adding a lieutenant; sergeant and officer to the training unit; adding one sergeant to internal affairs, and adding two dedicated information technology specialists.

Armijo said the department has already implemented approximately 27% of the 70 recommended actions. The department has so far converted its crime analyst to full-time, added a second sergeant to internal affairs, and added a training lieutenant and also assistant police chief in the last quarter of 2022 without requiring additional support from the city’s general fund.

The police department accounts for nearly 37% of the city’s $188 million general fund.

According to Armijo, the assessment’s findings will be considered as the police department creates an implementation plan to fulfill the recommendations over the course of the next several years.

“We will use this as a baseline to measure progress going forward,” Armijo said.

The assessment also listed the top concerns residents have based on its findings from community meetings and online surveys, which are homelessness, traffic and auto theft.

Mayor Esther Sanchez noted that for communities like the Eastside neighborhood, their top concerns still include homicide, violent crime, drug activity and the loss of community policing.

Beyond the recommendations for improvement, the Citygate Associates consultants spoke highly of OPD and its officers.

“The organization is full of highly professional and dedicated staff that are ready for change,” Gary said. “They know what’s going on and how they need to evolve.”

The consultants also noted that the police department received “very high marks” in procedural justification and overall community satisfaction.