ANTIOCH -- The city's thinly staffed police force will soon receive an additional boost.
The City Council this week approved hiring up to six non-sworn community service officers in addition to the 13 vacant sworn officer positions it is working to fill.
The new positions would be paid for by the city's reserve funds.
"I think we need to be aggressive for once and just do it," Councilman Brian Kalinowski said. "It sends an important message about improving quality of life."
Added Mayor Jim Davis: "It's a gamble; but for public safety, it's a gamble I'm going to make."
The council's decision includes the caveat that the staff closely monitor the city's budget and maintain the flexibility to not fill those positions if money becomes tight.
City Manager Jim Jakel said staff would report back to the council every 45 days to keep it informed if the budget "starts wobbling."
"We will be sure to make the process flexible so we have the ability to negotiate the checkbook," Jakel said.
The East Contra Costa city currently has no community service officers to handle duties such as booking, fingerprinting and transporting people to county jails. All 20 of the non-sworn officers were laid off in 2010.
Salary and benefits for a community resource officer would be about $87,600 per year.
Antioch's budget has about $5.9 million that is not designated to any particular department, about 16 percent of its overall budget. Plus, the city will have some savings because of the vacant police salaries until the positions are filled, Kalinowski said.
It takes about three to six months to have candidates go through oral interviews and background checks, Chief Allan Cantando said earlier this month. Police also have to interview about 100 candidates to find one sworn officer, he said.
The city is now running background checks on 13 candidates, Finance Director Dawn Merchant said.
Antioch's police department is down 37 sworn officers from its authorized strength of 126 officers, not including the dozen or so officers who may be on industry or injury leave or military duty.
Having the non-sworn officers back at work will be a "force multiplier" in that it frees up time sworn officers now spend handling those tasks and puts time back on the streets, Mayor Pro Tem Wade Harper said.
Councilman Gary Agopian added that the nearly $500,000 in expenditures could increase city revenue by $1 million, as it would boost the city's property value base. Antioch would be better equipped to address neighborhood issues such as problem homes and squatters, which would allow for higher home offers and make the city more desirable, he said. Antioch's primary source of revenue is property tax.
The council also decided to hire an additional consultant to its code enforcement department to address blight issues.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.