STOCKTON -- Because it is busy trying to catch murderers, the Stockton Police Department is no longer responding to non-injury car crashes, most complaints about animals, or requests that an officer stand by to monitor a tense, but non-violent encounter.
The new policy on calls went into effect June 3.
Officer Joe Silva, a department spokesman, said that day was also the first for two 11-officer 'Community Response Teams' that will work daily 10-hour shifts in violent crime hotspots.
The department announced it will stop responding to noninjury vehicle collisions that do not involve a DUI or a hit-and-run; no longer will provide "civil standby" service when citizens request a precautionary police presence to monitor certain nonviolent personal situations; and no longer will answer animal calls unless the animal in question appears to pose a physical threat.
"Our main priority is community safety," Silva said. "We're asking the public to be patient with us during this time while we suppress violent crime in our city."
Last Thursday's announcement came two weeks after the Stockton City Council approved a proposal by Police Chief Eric Jones to spend $77,760 to form the response teams and to resume using city cameras. The cameras will be manned by retired officers working part time, Silva said.
Much of the allotted money for Jone'' initiative will be for officer overtime. About $20,000 will pay the camera operators as well as the cost of activating the equipment.
Stockton's financial crisis and possible bankruptcy have depleted the police force.
Silva said Thursday the force has 324 officers; in 2008, there were 441. Stockton had a record 58 homicides in 2011; there have been 24 in 2012 with seven months remaining in the year. At this point in 2011, there had been nine homicides.
The announcement on May 31 is the latest in a series of policing moves since Jones took charge of the force earlier this year.
Under Jones, the department has instituted "real-time policing," giving watch commanders the ability to quickly redeploy patrol officers as needed within a shift.
Additionally, a multi-agency anti-violent crimes mission was conducted last month, and the department has started an aggressive social media campaign that provides a simple and anonymous method for tipsters to communicate with police.
"Right now, we're operating under unique challenges," Silva said. "We've heard from our communities that they want us in the neighborhoods where there is high crime, being proactive and making arrests.
"We've attended the town hall meetings the past couple of months and have heard from the community that they want a police presence back in their neighborhoods to combat violent crime so they can have a good quality of life."