WALNUT CREEK -- A reorganization of the city's police department will mean no more dedicated traffic cops, scaled back school outreach and more officers assigned to downtown.
The reorganization, announced Tuesday, is necessary in the short term to better serve the entire community, Chief of Police Joel Bryden said.
"We are trying to be creative with the resources we have and make sure our critical needs are being addressed," Bryden said.
A community policing team will be refocused on the downtown, allowing the city to continue the stepped-up enforcement of the past few weeks after a string of highly publicized violent incidents downtown.
"With a downtown this vibrant and lively, we need to put our resources where they are most needed," he said.
These downtown patrols will not just focus on bars but all issues downtown, he stressed. That will, in turn, keep other officers from being taken off other beats to respond downtown, he said.
"It will allow us to better serve the whole city," Bryden said.
As part of the reorganization, motorcycle traffic officers will be reassigned to patrol. While any officer can make a traffic stop, the change will mean fewer tickets and less traffic enforcement, Bryden said.
The department also will scale back on certain school programs, including Character Counts, in which Walnut Creek police officers go into classrooms and teach certain values and ethics. The graduation for
"Right now we need to reduce the number of things we are doing so we can focus on the number one goal of protecting the community," he said.
The city's Neighborhood Watch coordinator is being moved back to dispatcher. Neighborhood Watch groups will still have a lieutenant they can contact for any of their needs, Bryden said.
Many of these actions are "short-term," likely until July, because the City Council will vote on its two-year budget in June. In the last two-year budget, nine department positions were left unfilled to save money. Because of injuries and other factors, the police department has been short-staffed, making it necessary to shift officers around. Bryden plans to ask the council for more staff but would not say how many or for what positions.
In January, Bryden recommended two new officer positions -- focused on the downtown -- should be added to the budget. But there is already a $2.3 million projected deficit in the upcoming two-year budget.
Mayor Bob Simmons said the city is already looking for ways to cut the budget and that money for new staff must come from somewhere else. He stresses that tough decisions will be part of adopting the budget.
"I think we are going to have some significant challenges when you look at all the services the community does want," Simmons said. "We are used to a lot of nice things."
Councilman Kish Rajan, who for the past two months has been vocal about the need for more police, said he backs the chief's plan but is troubled that such a plan is necessary.
"I am not comfortable in an environment where we are restricting our services," he said. "We need to put the resources in public safety that provide the breadth and reach of services that our community deserves."
In a Facebook post, the Walnut Creek Police Association said it supports the restructuring in general, though some information in its post does not match up with Bryden's plan.
The department will no longer be able to provide proactive services, according to the post, and instead has been "forced into a reactive style of policing" like Antioch, Vallejo and Oakland.
Bryden called that characterization a "gross exaggeration." It's standard for police departments to go through restructurings like this, he said.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.