The Other Side of Auburn” is Back in Business
With this email, I’m reviving a blog I wrote for several years called The Other Side of Auburn that I used as a tool to do what I could to expose important stories in this town that were ignored or buried by commercial news outlets serving the community. I was trained as a journalist and worked in publishing for much of my career. I just can’t help myself when I see critical news being ignored or twisted. . .I’ve got to do what I can to tell the story from an independent perspective.
It is essential that I get my first, two-part blog entry out quickly, so I am sending it to Carpe Vino’s Window on Old Town list for the sake of expediency. My goal is to build an independent list for The Other Side of Auburn, so other than access to my initial two blog posts, you will not receive additional emails.
You will, however, have an opportunity to opt-in and be added to my new list and receive future posts, which will be announced in editions of Window on Old Town and linked to my new site (now under construction).
Clearly, I recognize many of my Window on Old Town readers will have no interest in Auburn-centric stories that are unrelated to wine and food. But many people do, and I hope you’ll register to receive my future blog posts.
Below is the first of two parts of my leadoff story. To read the entire piece, click the “Read More” link at the bottom of the page.
November 12, 2014
Inside Auburn PD:
Veteran Officers Depict a Gutted Department
During one of the most frightening days in the experience of modern-day Auburn, I was driving through the vast empty spaces of rural South Dakota, glued to my iPhone as it streamed KCRA3 video images of a murderous rampage that began in Sacramento and ended with the shooting death of a Placer County sheriff’s detective a few doors from my girl friend’s home in Auburn.
The hours-long pursuit, a tense standoff with the suspected murderer in a house on Belmont Dr. and his eventual capture have altered this community forever. Such unprecedented violence demonstrates just how vulnerable Auburn—or any small town—can be.
Throughout the grueling day and weekend following the surrender of alleged assailant Marcelo Marquez, sheriff’s officers from Placer and Sacramento Counties directed the ensuing investigation, along with agents and officers from the FBI, Homeland Security and ATF. Although a major crime was committed in our town, the Auburn Police Department deferred to the resources of larger, more capable jurisdictions.
It had absolutely no choice.
Four days earlier, I had filed my monthly column for the Auburn Journal, reproduced below exactly as I submitted it: “Inside Auburn PD: veteran officers depict a gutted department”. I emailed the story to my editor fully expecting that it would never be printed because the subject matter was so volatile. In recent months, the Auburn Journal had become increasingly reticent about running my every-Friday column because of negative feedback from the city’s entrenched power structure. My outspokenness resulted in a new edict from the San Diego corporate office of Brehm Communication: no more weekly columns from non-staff; maximum once per month from contributors.
After you read my column, you’ll understand why I was so personally moved by the violent incident in Auburn. I had been approached by a group of officers who were so concerned about the degradation of the community’s police services, they were willing to put their careers at risk by blowing the whistle on their department. The major issues were a 40%, pre-recession reduction in staffing; the resulting impact on officer back up; the loss of key positions; and the degradation of resources, systems and supplies.
Bottom line, the department was understaffed, ill-equipped and lacked the necessary funding to provide the kind of police service the community expected, much less the titanic needs experienced on October 24.
On that day, a rookie officer was the only person on patrol and the police chief was on vacation at Disney World.
(Note: This column was filed with Auburn Journal Senior Editor Dennis Noone on October 20 at 9:17 a.m.; it has not been published, nor has the newspaper followed through on any of the hard news components revealed.)
Inside Auburn PD: veteran officers depict a gutted department
Candidates for three contested seats on the Auburn City Council have harmonized on an essential campaign theme—the urgency of maintaining critical public safety services to protect our community.
This is a well founded concern, because my interaction recently with five veteran members of the Auburn Police Department paints a disturbing picture of an organization that has essentially been gutted both in terms of law-enforcement personnel on the streets and the fundamental equipment necessary to perform their duties. This dangerous combination has created a tense situation where many officers are apprehensive about not only their own safety, but also the well being of citizens and an endemic morale problem that is causing many officers to retire or seek employment with other law enforcement agencies.
Over the past three years, five officers have fled to other police forces; three others retired or left due to injury. Right now, five officers are in play and have their résumés on the street.
Cleary, these are not just a few disgruntled staff. . .there is a widespread sense of concern in the department, especially among those seasoned cops assigned to the street. All with whom I communicated agreed to do so only after being assured of complete anonymity; most were anxious about potential disciplinary blowback, the consequence of coming forward publicly about their deepest concerns:
–Decimation of Staffing: Pre-economic downturn, the Auburn Police Department had a complement of as many as 25 sworn officers. Today, that number has plummeted to what will soon be just 15, a whopping reduction of 40%. The most disturbing issue is that the thin blue line protecting our city’s borders will amount to just nine patrol officers assigned to 12-hour shifts (four shifts one week, three the next). Except for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights when there are three officers on duty (two patrol, one supervisor), there are just two officers on duty over night. . .and that number could drop to a lone officer from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. if “operational streamlining” solutions currently under consideration are deployed.
The overriding concern among police officers is the issue of back up: in an emergency situation with just one colleague on duty, there is radically diminishing confidence that help will arrive in time. The city recently lost a veteran officer who suffered a career-ending back injury when, during the early morning hours in the middle of the intersection of Center and High Streets, he engaged with a PCP-addled man. The fight was over in two minutes, and so was his career. . .even though his back-up was just four minutes away.
One officer characterized Auburn as “a one-call town,” which means a single call for service effectively eliminates police coverage for the rest of the community. For example, if a disturbance in a bar Downtown engages both the patrol officer and the supervising sergeant, the rest of the seven square miles of Auburn are without police coverage, as is Auburn’s island airport which at best receives sporadic patrols. (Yes, there are “mutual aid” pacts with Placer County and nearby jurisdictions, but response times are often slow because neighboring departments are facing similar staffing challenges.)
–Loss of Basic Services. At this moment, the Auburn Police Department staff is so thin, it strains to keep officers on the street, a situation made more dire by simple issues like vacations, sick days and officers who must go to court or training programs. Quite simply, we have no bench.
This translates to a wholesale loss of services elemental in maintaining the peace. The list of jettisoned positions in the department is alarming: two SROs (school resource officers who covered Placer High and other schools); two motorcycle patrol officers (in fact, there is currently virtually no tactical traffic enforcement in the city; issuing of traffic citations has, since October 2011, essentially ended); DUI enforcement officer; D.A.R.E. officer (Drug Abuse Resistance Education); canine officer; S.W.A.T. team; and even the police department’s honor guard and exhibition presence at public events such as the Gold Country Fair. All gone.
If you want to get away with a crime—like the dumping of the body of a murder victim from San Francisco in Old Town, unsolved since October 9, 2012—Auburn is a prime location thanks to convenient freeway access and the fact that we have just one detective on staff, down from two. And, unfortunately, that officer is not currently available for investigations because of back-filling patrol.
The net is, if the criminal element gets wind of our grossly diminished police veil in Auburn, we’re in trouble. In fact, one officer told me, “If the average citizens knew the level of service we are providing, they would have a fit.”
Despite our critically eroded personnel resources, two sworn officers are assigned full time to a Rocklin-based Special Investigations Unit that is seldom seen in Auburn. This joint task force is dedicated to drug interdiction, an initiative the Roseville Police Department is not currently supporting.
–Equipment and Services Status is Abysmal. True police strength and readiness is further diminished by a department burdened with archaic systems and equipment. I was told that the computer-aided dispatch system is grossly outdated, as is the department’s record-management system, which is more than 20 years old. The telephone system, until recently, could not transfer or hold calls; it is still plagued by frequent dropped calls, an untenable situation when handling emergencies. And except for calls from landlines, caller ID does not function.
An intercom system at the police station has not worked for more than three years, and the closed-circuit security system is so antiquated, grainy monitor resolution makes it impossible to clearly distinguish faces. Basic computers and printers are ancient, and police radios are useless in some areas of the city because of dead spots, forcing officers to communicate by cell phone.
But perhaps the most telling revelation is that officers must supply their own flashlights and batteries, plus purchase their personal body armor (officers receive a $200 per quarter uniform allowance).
So what’s the answer? Auburn’s cash-strapped finances in recent years have taken a toll in every city department, all of which are much more visible than what goes on behind the locked gates of police headquarters on Lincoln Way. But the department management’s mantra of “do more with less,” clearly isn’t working.
It is incumbent on the next Auburn City Council to take a hard look at staffing and logistics, and be prepared to make a substantial investment in our community’s safety, rather than blindly accept the status quo. . .assuming tax payers can afford it.
Next: The Aftermath
Trying to get this story told through the Auburn Journal has been futile. Next time, I’ll recount how the paper handled the story; how the police department and city management reacted; and details about how our department stacks up in comparison to other city police forces in Placer County in terms of staffing levels and area served.
There will be skeptics who feel I have a personal axe to grind, so I’ll make clear my relationship with sources (without naming most of them). I’ll also briefly describe my experience as a true “meddler” in this town.
November 12, 2014