Fresno is on track to have its largest police force in the city’s history as city leaders debate the $1.85 billion proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Mayor Jerry Dyer’s proposed budget includes over $261.6 million for the police department, up nearly $26 million from last year’s police budget of $236.1 million.
During budget hearings Tuesday, Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said a majority of this budget increase, $22.8 million, will cover increased personnel costs.
These staff increases will help add over 50 new officers to the force, increasing the total number of officers from 846 to 900.
“I think we’re doing an excellent job of not just hiring more police officers,” he said, “but hiring the best of the best and making sure that the vast majority are from the Central Valley.”
Balderrama said the department has made strides to diversify the growing police force. Of the 117 officers hired in 2022, 21% were women and 75% were minorities.
Additionally, there are dozens of recruits participating in three academies and are expected to graduate later this year, he said.
Gun violence in Fresno spiked in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. When Balderrama joined the force in 2021, the department was dealing with some of the lowest staffing levels in 10 years and faced recruitment challenges.
One change that has helped with recruiting is a pay bump. In 2022, Fresno PD became the highest paid local law enforcement agency in the San Joaquin Valley after Fresno City Council and Fresno Police Officers Association voted to approve a three-year contract.
City leaders welcomed the news of the growing force.
“We have tremendous respect and pride in what you do,” District 6 Councilmember Garry Bredefeld said.
The police budget is also expected to include increased spending for contractual obligations, ShotSpotter gunshot detection system, district leases, janitorial services, equipment for new officers, replacement vehicles, utilities and partnerships. Among those initiatives is $600,000 for a mental health triage partnership with the behavioral health department to provide an alternative response to mental health crisis calls.
City council made specific budget requests for the police department on Tuesday.
Councilmember Luis Chavez of District 5 made a motion to add two positions to the elder abuse unit, as well as a motion to allocate $100,000 to feed video images into surveillance command centers. Councilmember Nelson Esparza of District 7 made a motion for an additional $220,000 within the police department budget to continue funding the relaunch of the neighborhood watch program. Council Vice President Annalisa Perea of District 1 requested $100,000 for small business security camera grants.
Crime down in Fresno
During fiscal year 2023, Balderrama said homicides were down by 46.2%, shootings were down by 9.2%, rapes were down by 21.5%, and robberies were down by 13%. (These are updated numbers compared to the budget presentation online.)
He said intelligence-driven policing, strong communications between patrol and specialized units, and partnerships with federal partners, local partners, and community organizations such as gang intervention program Advance Peace “have been very helpful” in contributing to this reduction in crime.
This downward crime trend is not unique to Fresno.
According to an analysis by AH Data Analytics, a nationally recognized firm known for its evaluation of criminal justice data, murder is down about 12% year-to-date in more than 90 cities that have released data for 2023, compared with data as of the same date in 2022.
Some Fresno residents question the correlation between police and safety.
Addressing the council during Tuesday’s budget hearings, Ruben Espinoza, policy advocate with Fresno Barrios Unidos, said the city should take a more holistic approach to public safety.
“Safety is much more multifaceted and much more complicated than putting or giving more than 50% of the budget to policing,” he said. “Safety is having a place to go, having a place to stay, having the roof over your head, staying with your family (and) not being displaced.”
The police department budget represents about 14.4% of the total $1.85 billion budget, and nearly half, or 49%, of the general fund appropriations of $457.3 million. Most of the city’s day-to-day expenses are paid through the city’s general fund.
Camila Rivera, a campaign coordinator with Power California and District 7 resident, said there’s a need for more community safety, “and I don’t mean more police in our neighborhoods,” she said, “I mean safe and affordable housing.”
The 2023 California Housing Partnership Affordable Housing Needs Report shows that Fresno County has a shortfall of over 36,000 affordable housing units for low-income renters. But City Manager Georgeanne White said during the planning and development hearing that the city has seen a “remarkable” 1,600% increase in the development of affordable housing over a five-year period.
City council will vote next Wednesday on council budget motions. An initial budget vote will take place on June 22 and the final budget vote will take place during the regular city council meeting on Thursday, June 29.