When people’s perceptions about community safety take a negative turn, I pay attention because it usually means there will soon be a decline in property values. People don’t want to live in unsafe neighborhoods. As a real estate broker, this affects my business. However, the real reason I care so much about community safety is that I love this community. I grew up here, I raised my kids here, and I plan to live out the rest of my days here.
For our community to remain a wonderful place to live, we need to invest in public safety. I’ll admit that municipal police departments in Ukiah and Willits have received a fair amount of bad press in recent years. But identifying a few bad apples does not mean the whole barrel is rotten. In fact, the investigations that led to the ouster of those bad apples tells me that city leaders have the courage and determination to do what’s needed to maintain integrity in those agencies. That’s a good thing.
In small towns like ours, I would argue that the most important functions of government are to keep citizens safe and to provide basic infrastructure—in that order. Some people are under the mistaken impression that we do not need a strong police presence; that our towns don’t have much in the way of violence and mayhem. While we may have less than bigger metropolitan areas, many people are surprised when they learn about the crime we do have. Our jails are full of people who violently assault others, take advantage of our most vulnerable community members, and who belong to drug cartels and gangs that have brought a new level of criminality to our county. Without well-trained, well-equipped, law enforcement officers, our community cannot be safe.
Because we chronically underpay local officers, our police departments have remained understaffed for years. Even when we attract new recruits with generous hiring bonuses, we have a hard time keeping them. This shortage means those who remain must work overtime, which often leads to injuries and burn out.
Right now, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, and the Willits and Ukiah police departments collaborate to keep our communities safe, but you can only spread limited resources so far.
I am a member of the Mendocino County Public Safety Foundation (protectmendocino.org), but here I am speaking as an individual, not as a spokesman for the foundation. We raise funds to provide scholarships for men and women interested in careers in law enforcement. We also raise funds for essential gear and resources like robots and police dogs.
Most of the people who go into law enforcement do so because they want to take care of their community. Many have served in our Armed Forces for the same reason. They deserve our respect and appreciation. Before you judge the actions of a law enforcement officer, consider the fact that their daily lives include routine interactions that can quickly escalate into life-and-death situations. They must be on high alert all the time to remain safe and keep others safe.
Right now, many local officers are being asked to work too often and without appropriate resources. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for us. We need community support for our hard-working officers, which means paying them a competitive salary and allowing them enough time off so they can come to work refreshed and alert. If we have problem officers, they need to go.
Nationwide, the number of police officers is dropping at an alarming rate. People who would make excellent officers are not pursuing a career in law enforcement because they do not want to be underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated. It’s hard to put your life on the line for people who recommend “defunding” the police. When new recruits at the Santa Rosa Police Academy were polled on how they would choose where to work, their top response was based on where they would have community support.
If you are interested in learning more about the Mendocino Public Safety Foundation, let me know. If you have ideas on ways we can show our local officers more appreciation, let me know. If you think we should prioritize public safety, consider attending city council and Board of Supervisors’ meetings where budgets are discussed and approved.
And as always, if you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.
Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.