McFARLAND, Calif. (KGET) — The city of McFarland finds itself in deep financial trouble, and it’s taking a toll on public safety.
More than half of its police force has left McFarland for higher-paying jobs elsewhere, leaving the city with just five officers to answer emergency calls and patrol the city.
McFarland is a small town with some big financial problems. City leaders have tried to find ways to generate more revenue for city coffers, but have had limited success.
The situation now has gotten to the point that at certain times, officers are on-call to respond to emergency calls.
When fully staffed, McFarland has a police force of 12 officers and a chief, but for the past three months, there are just five officers patrolling the streets.
“Who are we going to call?” McFarland resident Maribel Rush says. “Who’s going to be there when we actually do need somebody and there’s no officer on duty? Anything can happen at any time.”
McFarland Interim Police Chief Janet Davis is fully aware of the problem. “We absolutely need more police officers,” she said.
Chief Davis says the main reason cops leave McFarland is because of low pay.
Starting salary is $40,000 a year, but there are no retirement benefits under the state CalPERS system. Once they get a year of experience under their belt, they go for greener pastures.
“The officers are severely underpaid. … People have to put food on their table and support their families. So there’s a high motivation to go to another agency that would have better pay,” Davis said.
Davis and her staff came up with a plan.
Officers work a 12-hour shift similar to a firefighter, three days one week, four days the next week. This has officers on the street during the day when calls for service are greatest.
But, there are no officers on the street between midnight and 7 a.m. One officer is on-call should an emergency happen. The department has even installed beds at the station for the on-call officer.
“If we do have a homicide, or if we do have a shooting or any of those things, they’re getting there. Add another few minutes just like a firefighter, get dressed, get in the car and go.”
But any call lower than a life-threatening situation is not attended to until the next day Davis said.
Not everyone is satisfied with the current arrangement. Business owner Sandra Huerta of La Espiga de Oro Market is among them.
“We as residents of this town have to raise our voice and tell city leaders that we need more police, because right now they can’t respond to our needs,” she said.
McFarland continues to struggle financially, but hasn’t yet been able to attract enough commercial development to strengthen city coffers.
Davis herself only works part time, three days a week. The interim city manager is also part time, at three days a week. Mayor Manuel Cantu, the city has had to cut back or delay services.
“Although McFarland’s growing, it’s a wonderful place to live and be. We need to have more commercial growth. Until then, we’re going to have a difficult time paying for services,” Cantu said.
Interim City Manager Larry Pennell will present his plan on what steps to take to save the city money, and how to generate more revenue.
That plan will be presented at next Thursday’s city council meeting at 6 p.m.