Photo: Andrew Goff.

Eureka police are working overtime and the department’s services have been slashed in recent years, all because the city can’t find enough people who want to be Eureka cops.

That’s the message to the community from the Eureka Police Officers Association — the bargaining unit that represents the EPD’s rank-and-file officers. In an open letter sent out over the weekend, the EPOA enumerated the challenges the department is facing with, it says, only 60 percent of the normal sworn officer positions filled.

“We’ve never really told the public what we’re going through,” EPOA President Detective Joseph Couch told the Outpost this morning. “The general citizen, I would like to think, would like us to be up front with them.”

Couch said that it was important to the association to not place blame anywhere in particular. He said that EPD command staff have been “working relentlessly” to try to fill vacant positions, and he acknowledged that understaffing has been a problem in police agencies across the nation.

But the association’s membership felt that a direct address to the community it serves was important at this time, with so many officers burnt out over mandatory overtime. They’re still out there answering calls, but some services — such as the Problem Oriented Policing unit and the dedicated Old Town officer — are luxuries that the department simply cannot afford at this time.

“Despite what we’re going through, we’re going to be doing everything we can to answer calls and keep the public safe,” Couch said.

The EPOA ends the letter with an appeal to local citizens who might feel a calling to serve.

Open letter from the Eureka Police Officers Association:

To the community we serve,

Over the last couple of years, EPD has experienced a rapid loss of numerous and experienced Police Officers. With the recent departures, Eureka is currently operating with 60% of its normal level of Police Officers.  This number fluctuates with officers being on different forms of leave or departing to other agencies. This severe shortage has created a significant impact on EPD’s ability to proactively police the community while also answering calls for service.

To adjust for this drastic shortage, our dedicated Police Officers have been working mandatory overtime, while adjustments have been made to reduce the effectiveness of proactive specialty safety teams. Cuts affecting safety have been applied to: 

  • Our Problem Oriented Policing (POP), responsible for investigating problematic houses, illicit drug sales, issues of violence and arresting high-level fugitives, has been dismantled.
  • The Community Safety Engagement Team (CSET), charged with addressing issues of homelessness, mental illness, and addiction, remains intact, but is operating at a deficit.
  • The Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU) is currently operating at a similar reduction.  CIU is responsible for solving major crimes like homicides, violent assaults, sexual assaults, and crimes against children.
  • Even the Old Town Officer position, which provides crucial coverage to citizens, businesses, and tourists in the heart of the City, has been vacant due to staffing levels.
  • The Traffic Unit, which is responsible for investigating all traffic related issues, including general traffic safety enforcement and major collisions within the City of Eureka has been dismantled for several years.

EPD Officers assigned to existing specialty units have been working extra patrol shifts, on top of their assigned duties, so the department can simply meet the minimum staffing requirements in order to safely patrol the streets and respond to calls for service.   

The Eureka Police Department’s Administrative staff, to include the Chief, Assistant Chief and both Commanders have been working relentlessly to alleviate the staffing struggles. A Recruitment Board was created to manufacture new and creative ideas that could potentially inspire local and outside Lateral Officers in joining the Eureka Police Department team. Administrative Staff have consistently worked together with the Eureka Police Officer’s Association (EPOA), and they have made every attempt to ensure each patrol shift is properly covered. After many discussions, Administrative Staff and the EPOA have determined it will be more appropriate to implement the emergency staffing matrix, which will require Patrol Officers to work mandatory 12.5 hour shifts during their work week. This type of staffing will allow for each patrol shift to be properly covered, and it will prevent Officers from being ordered in so that minimum staffing requirements are met. This same Administrative staff have also continuously listened to current Officers, and they have made every attempt within their authority to provide incentives that could lessen the burden of low staffing.

Despite these challenges, our mission hasn’t changed. We will continue providing the best service possible to keep our city a great place to live, raise a family, and own a business. We will ensure your calls for assistance are still answered and handled exceptionally, respectfully and as promptly as possible.  

We call upon our community to actively support our efforts to increase the number of Police Officers to a fully operational level at the Eureka Police Department. We strive to retain and recruit quality people and encourage our community to participate in this process. 

We urge you to be active in local government, express your approval and disapproval of policies affecting public safety and, if serving your community is your calling, please join our ranks!