ANTIOCH -- A city in the midst of an ongoing public safety struggle will have a bit more wiggle room to address its lack of staffing.
The Antioch City Council increased its cap this week on the total number of hired veteran officers from other agencies, or lateral hires, from five to 10.
Since changing its pension benefits last December to a "3 percent at 50" formula for veteran officers, Antioch has hired three police officers from elsewhere. Two more potential veteran hires are going through background checks and three more are being interviewed this week, Human Resources Director Michelle Fitzer said.
"It's really impossible to go to recruiting events or advertise in (police officer) magazines, inviting a whole lot of laterals to apply when you only have two spots left," police Capt. Leonard Orman said.
Antioch is currently staffed at 83 sworn officers, 74 of whom are on full-time duty. Four trainees are also in the academy.
The department is budgeted for 102 sworn officers, and is trying to fill those spots with a blend of rookies and veterans. The process has had its ups and downs since December as several officers have been hired, though the total number is actually down as some have retired or moved to other agencies.
For each lateral hire, there is an additional retirement cost of about $960 per month, but Fitzer said the city will save in the long run by hiring faster and not incurring months of academy training costs.
Orman said it can take an entry-level trainee a year of academy training before working by themselves, while a lateral hire can be on the street by themselves within four to six weeks, once the officer learns the nuances of the city's report-writing system and geography. Lateral hires also tend to possess better decision-making skills and receive fewer citizen complaints, he said.
Before the vote, resident Fred Hoskins told the council it should hire rookies who can adapt to Antioch, instead of paying more for veteran officers from other cities that may have "preconceived" ideas on policing. Also, city money should be placed on developing neighborhood activities, he said.
Pointing out that officers say they often arrive to work with 30 calls for service that require response, Mayor Wade Harper said hiring more officers is not a "cure-all," but they are sorely needed.
"We can't just take one approach. We can't say 'either or,' it's a 'both and,'" he said.
Councilman Gary Agopian agreed that a holistic approach must be taken, but he stressed the need for more officers for the department to function as it did in the past.
"As a strategy to get men and women on the streets quickly and efficiently and effectively, and making Antioch a safe city now, I am for that, whatever the cost," Agopian said.
The city's long-term goal is to bring its number of sworn officers back to 126 and its nonsworn community resource officers to 20, the number it had in 2008 before the economic recession.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.