CALEXICO — The Calexico City Council received heavy criticism from city employees at the last regular meeting, Wednesday, June 2, accusing them of insufficiently staffing their most important city services.
President of the Police Officers Association Luis Casillas said during public comments that the police department is suffering from an extensive list of issues that include personnel, equipment, and the dilapidated state of the building. However, Casillas said what was most important is the safety and security the public is lacking.
“We simply don’t have enough officers on the street, enough 911 dispatchers on the street, we don’t even have an ambulance out there,” said Casillas.
An impassioned Casillas called the situation an embarrassment and a disservice to the community. Casillas asked where the city went wrong that Calexico is dependent on calling in outside parties for an ambulance.
“How is it possible that a city of 40,000 people has two police officers at one time, and if someone goes to jail, guess what, now you’ve got one. This is a cry for help,” said Casillas.
Casillas gave an ominous warning to the council when he said this was the calm before the storm and the dispatchers are going to have an even more difficult time responding to emergencies as more and more business open.
“We don’t have the staffing levels that we need to provide for this community,” said Casillas.
Board member of the Police Officers Association Elda Gonzales said she was representing the neglected communications center and spoke of a long-standing hiring issue.
“There’s currently only seven dispatchers covering four 12-hour shifts. Two 12 hour shifts only have one dispatcher. For a population of over 40,000 in Calexico, plus 10,000 daily crossers from Mexicali. Where very often we have to put callers on hold, including 911 emergency calls,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzales said there is only one dispatcher to handle all the calls from the police, medical, fire, traffic control, animal control, business lines, special details for the District Attorney’s Office agents, narcotic task force, assisting border patrol, customs and border protection, and networking with other county agencies and utilities.
Gonzalez said that one dispatcher multitasking on a 12 hour shift usually is unable to take breaks, having to eat lunch while handling calls and radio traffic while inputting critical information into law enforcement databases.
“Also waiting for an available officer for a restroom break, sometimes causing medical issues. There is a desperate need for hiring more dispatchers,” said Gonzalez.
First responder dispatcher Daniella Murillo said they are overworked and since the dispatchers rely on one another, most even refused to call in sick because they don’t want to force others to cover for them.
“There have been situations when a dispatcher calls in sick and officers have to go to our own houses searching for us to be mandated to go to work,” said Murillo
Murillo said she has seen co-workers suffer from anxiety attacks and describes them as mentally exhausted and in physical pain.
“I find it extremely difficult to take care of others when we are trying to take care of ourselves,” said Murillo.
Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo confirmed during his public comments that there are only two full-time employees and one permanent part-time and about 12 others on temporary part-time status at the traffic control office.
Gerardo also said they need additional help for the animal control facility, which is a request that has been made to the City Council several times.
“We do need to have somebody there during the day so they can go on the route and do their job,” said Gerardo.
Gerado said at the moment there are only 2 employees at animal control with volunteers beginning to return after more COVID-19 restrictions were dropped on June 15. The volunteers however can only work on Saturdays between 8am and 12pm, according to Gerardo.
“If our animal control has to leave, he has to lock up because there has to be somebody from city staff there to make sure they don’t get hurt,” said Gerardo.
Gerardo also said that the facilities at the police department need to be upgraded.
“You’re going to be surprised by the conditions that we have,” said Gerardo.