FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --The Fresno Police Department is making major changes designed to make the city safer and raise morale -- in the department and in the community.
Back in the 1990s, when the economy was booming, Fresno upped its police ranks and embraced community policing, helping to drive down crime rates. The force shrank during the recession a decade later, though, and community policing was tough to do. Now, it's coming back as part of Chief Jerry Dyer's plan to reorganize the department.
As their numbers dipped, so too have Fresno police officers' friendly encounters with people in the neighborhoods they're supposed to not only protect, but serve.
Staffing fell below 700 officers during the recession, but could be back above 800 by next June -- enough that community policing can make a comeback.
"There will be an increased interaction between our officers and citizens in a positive way and not necessarily in an enforcement mode," Chief Dyer said.
Dyer says the bigger staff also lets officers get off the streets for more training. He wants them to take an extra 40 hours a year.
"On areas that are very important to us in policing today: as it deals with bias-based policing, how we deal with the mentally ill, our tactical response, de-escalation of force," he said.
Chief Dyer's plan to reorganize includes two new police substations. At Clovis and Tulare, what's now a pile of dirt will become a housing and retail development before long, and right next door will be the new southeast substation, replacing a tiny building with a lot too small to even keep all the patrol cars.
But maybe most significant will be the Central substation going into Manchester Center. Dyer saved millions during the recession by completely eliminating the Central policing district. But the community noticed. Tower District residents and business owners felt more at risk, and response times went up.
Dyer says the new district map can help, especially in northwest Fresno, where the issue was the most acute.
"Since it's a small geographical area, what you're going to see is a much quicker response to those in-progress type crimes," Dyer said.
The city plans to unveil the new Central policing district in a couple weeks.
Dyer is also now able to give out some promotions that have been on hold for years.