WASCO, Calif. (KGET) — The City of Wasco is one step closer to launching its own police department, something the city council endorsed in a unanimous vote last year.

Thursday, the city received $5 million in state funds to help begin building a state-of-the-art police station.

The city has long been served by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, but local leaders say that just hasn’t been enough. Wasco Mayor Vincent Martinez said due to its own staffing issues, KCSO couldn’t fulfill its contract with Wasco.

The presentation of the check was followed by speeches from state Senator Melissa Hurtado and California Assemblywoman Dr. Jasmeet Bains, both representatives of the Central Valley. These two lawmakers helped secure the funding.

“He said, what color do I wear to not get shot?” Dr. Bains told the crowd, recalling a conversation with a six-year-old patient.

She said as a child, she did not have to worry about gun violence.

“The number one comment that I heard from constituents in Wasco is I don’t feel safe, and I don’t know where to get help,” she later told 17 News.

While she served on the Sanger City Council, Senator Hurtado said she experienced what it was like lacking the funds to expand and make repairs to her local public safety department. So, stepping into high leadership, she knew cities need those proper resources.

“I believe we’re all hoping here that these funds are going to guarantee a more safe and more prosperous community where there isn’t fear to go outside your home or go to school,” said Senator Hurtado.

Such is the harsh reality of low quality of life in many places, including right here in Kern County’s Wasco.

“You see homeless people, you see abandoned cars, you see all these quality-of-life issues that unfortunately are just overlooked by larger agencies [due to other issues like drugs],” said Wasco Mayor Vincent Martinez. “Our belief is with our own police department, we will be able to address some of those more minor issues that still affect people’s lives day to day.”

The funds will help the future police department acquire land to build its department on, Wasco Police Chief Charlie Fivecoat said.

“We really haven’t advertised a lot outside of the agency, but through word-of-mouth, we’ve been obtaining several very qualified candidates,” he added. “This coming Tuesday, we’re gonna have another five, and I think we have 21 or 22 in backgrounds right now. And our hopes is when we get our staffing level to about 15, we’ll probably make the change over from the sheriff’s department services to ours.”

Fivecoat explained full staffing for the Wasco police would likely be around 23 commissioned and seven non-commissioned officers.

Recruitment has been a key concern. Six officers have been commissioned so far for the up-and-coming police department.

Chief Fivecoat emphasized his department will work with KCSO to serve the community, including unincorporated areas.

“[With a police department], you’re more in tune with what the community really wants,” Fivecoat said. “What the values are the citizens hold dear.” 

Mayor Martinez said the next steps include logistics, like setting up a dispatch center.

“We’ve gotten a lot of those small hurdles out of the way,” the mayor said. “Now it’s just a matter of bringing all the pieces together and hopefully in the near future, breaking ground on a new state-of-the-art facility.”

But no estimate yet on when that may be.

“This community is literally going to thrive and fly on its own and be able to protect itself,” Dr. Bains said.