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The world is a dangerous place.
And so is Manteca.
That is not hyperbole.
So far this year, Manteca Police have taken an illegal gun off the street at the pace of one every other day.
One hundred days of 2022 will have passed on April 10. That means 50 illegal guns will have been collected.
Keep in mind this is not Chicago. It is not Oakland . It is not Stockton. It is not Modesto. This is Manteca.
What happens in Chicago may not mean much to someone living in Manteca. But what happens in Stockton and Modesto does. Both cities are a 15-minute drive from Manteca.
It is doubtful you will find Manteca residents that believe the level of safety in Stockton and Modesto is the same as in this community. Whether it is statistics or anecdotal evidence, Manteca is safer to whatever possible degree that might actually be.
Yet we are a short freeway drive from Modesto and arguably two freeway drives plus a major road or two from Stockton.
If Manteca Police are taking 50 illegal guns off the street in 100 days, imagine what they aren’t coming across. Now apply that to Modesto and Stockton.
Which brings us to what is keeping Manteca as safe as it.
Rest assured it isn’t a hired consultant, an elected council member, or someone that has never had to pull over a driver for speeding and suddenly finds themselves dealing with an armed convicted felon with illegal drugs.
It is the 70 men and women that are actually employed and not simply authorized positions who swore to uphold the constitution to serve and protect while backing up their word at a any moment with their lives.
The unthinkable can happen in Manteca.
It’s happened in cities and towns much smaller.
To be honest, life is for all practical purposes can seem to be nothing much better than a crapshoot.
The best you can do is work at improving the odds without becoming paranoid.
The town I grew up in had leadership that believed there was no need to improve the odds or, if you prefer, make their own luck.
In 1971 the crapshoot caught up with Lincoln in Placer County.
Elected leaders hadn’t spent a dime beyond bare essentials to improve the odds.
It started as an armed robbery at a grocery store before it opened on a Sunday morning.
It ended with the only officer on duty dead and his back-up — an off-duty sergeant responding to a call for help in the Ford Galaxy station wagon he had planned to take his family to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church mass a few hours later — gravely wounded.
The officer that died — Les Schellbach — was ambushed on a heavily shaded sharp curve on a country road just out of town. Three armed robbers laid in wait with semi-automatic weapons.
Schellbach was outgunned. There wasn’t even a shotgun in his vehicle. The sergeant did not have one in his vehicle either.
Prior to December 1971 Lincoln’s leadership squeezed pennies so tight that they got callouses on callouses.
They repeatedly turned down department requests for additional staffing.
They viewed asking for more money as a cardinal sin.
They made departments — including the police — keep what you might kindly call cutting back but should be called for what it was, cutting corners.
One of the first photographs I shot as a 16-year-old correspondent for the Lincoln News Messenger weekly was a photo that ended up infuriating city leaders. It was of the Lincoln Business and Professional Women presenting Police Chief Bob Jimenez with a $100 check so they department could buy a rifle.
You read that right. The public was donating money so officers would have a fighting chance while they were putting their lives on the line to serve and protect their community.
It was amazing how the city leaders came up with money from a budget that had no fat to buy the minimum required weapons the department had asked for in every vehicle to avoid the embarrassment of more civic groups having their picture taken to purchase officers basic equipment needs.
Manteca for years has kept police staffing in check despite the city’s uninterrupted years of strong growth. They have forced the department to work out of a cubbyhole as well as one that is about as secure as a sieve. City leaders knew that in 2002. Whether today’s city leaders turn a blind eye to that has yet to be seen.
Does Manteca need one officer per 1,000 residents or 18 more authorized positions than they currently have to keep the community safe? As long as things are status quo, no one is going to be interested in a lasting serious debate and ways of addressing the need.
But the second things go south, the jackals will be turned loose.
And even if the city’s hand isn’t forced by a tragedy, what type of future Manteca’s leadership is creating by being as lean and mean with public safety that requires putting crime prevention and steering kids away from gangs and such on life support as Manteca did in 2008 when they were forced to make budget cuts due to the Great Recession.
We may be relatively safe today but will we be tomorrow?
Penny pinching often comes at a steep price.
The price we may be paying is reflected in that hideously nagging statistic — Manteca Police with what resources they have are taking an illegal weapon off the streets at the pace of one every other day.
No one is arguing to give the police the key to the vault.
But it is clear that it took Manteca more than a decade to restore police staffing to pre-2008 levels. Yes, they’ve forged past that level but since then the city has added 20,000 people, who knows how many vehicles, and many more opportunists just a short drive away.
So, the question must be asked: Is Manteca better off today with the level of police staffing, resources, and efforts to prevent crime and divert youth from gangs than it was in 2008?
City leaders simply saying they support public safety as a top priority is no longer cutting it.
What exactly is their plan to change course?
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com