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Lodi police commission meeting on staffing shortages

Outgoing Lodi Police Lt. Craig Freitag, left, and Lodi Police Department Administrative Assistant Melissa Randall-O'Neil listen as Lodi Police Commission Chairman Robert Westby speaks during a meeting Wednesday.

As half of its sworn officers, including both ranking officers, leave their positions, the city of Lodi and its police department have scrambled to find a solution and ensure public safety in a municipality of about 3,000 people.

Lodi Police Lt. Craig Freitag tentatively will depart May 23 to begin a new job as chief of police in the city of Clintonville. Lodi Chief Scott Klicko resigned on April 26. Officer Michael Andrew’s last day is Monday.

“I’m very concerned about providing adequate coverage in Lodi,” Columbia County Sheriff Roger Brandner said. He’s never seen public safety operations so severely affected by staff departures.

On Monday, the city of Lodi will meet with Brandner to discuss a final proposal to contract with his office for a lieutenant or captain to provide administrative assistance for the Lodi Police Department. That proposal would then be turned over to County Board Chairman Vern Gove to sign.

The city of Lodi’s five Police Commission members voted unanimously in a public meeting Wednesday to approve seeking such an arrangement with the sheriff’s office.

“The timeline is running pretty short,” Lodi Mayor Jim Ness said. “Our goal is to get back up to speed with everything. We’re committed to keep the force up to speed.”

Lodi City Administrator Julie Ostrander said the city will likely have to fork out $13,900 for every month it enlists administrative help from the sheriff’s office. That price tag covers salaries, health benefits, gas costs and general vehicle wear and tear.

That contract would be on a month-to-month basis, Brandner said, estimating it could be three months before the city of Lodi is able to hire new officers to fill its ranks.

“Sheriff Brandner has been very helpful with everything,” Ness said. “We’re on top of it.”

Although Brandner said he doesn’t have many spare officers to offer, he felt it was his responsibility to help.

“I was not going to leave the Lodi residents uncovered,” Brandner said. “I am very impressed with these young officers, but they need a leader. That’s why we have stepped up and are willing to help that city in this very unusual time.”

Brainstorming solutions

During the Police Commission meeting Wednesday night, Freitag said the remaining police officers deserve credit for coming together and forming a temporary scheduling plan.

But Freitag said the department does not have enough staff for security at events, such as the upcoming Memorial Day parade.

“I’m trying to brainstorm ideas, just running out of options,” Freitag said.

Commission member Christina Smith-Gallagher suggested hiring a private security firm to help staff the parade.

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When asked if sheriff’s deputies could help with that, Brandner told the Daily Register his office supports all municipalities in the county and how they handle parades or events. But he believes his deputies could likely offer support for a couple hours during a parade.

Columbia County Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf said a contract is required for the sheriff’s office to provide provide services usually carried out by local police, such as traffic control, security at local events or checking businesses for security.

Pardeeville is the only Columbia County community that contracts with the sheriff’s office for full-time police service. The village of Cambria contracts with the sheriff’s office for part-time patrol.

Freitag said 11 interviews were scheduled for last Thursday for an open patrol officer position. Those interviews will be further discussed at another meeting this week.

The police commission members also voted unanimously to approve paying a private company $6,500 to screen and recommend candidates for chief.

That process alone could take several weeks, and it could take up to four or five months in total for the city to make a final decision.

Community concerns

The recent police departures surprised many residents and officials, including Lodi School District Superintendent Charles Pursell.

He said the schools and police department have long had a good working relationship. He spoke to Klicko days before his resignation, and all seemed normal.

Pursell said he’s curious what will happen to a school safety committee to which Klicko belonged. Pursell said the police department recently installed a new radio for school officials to have easier access to police and first responders in case of emergencies of any kind. The committee’s next meeting is Wednesday.

At Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting, Lodi Community Action Team Project Coordinator Paula Enger stood up to commend Klicko and Freitag on their “unparalleled” efforts to take drugs off the streets.

Columbia County District 27 Supervisor Nancy Long also expressed her concern about how teens and youths in Lodi could be affected by a shortage of police officers in the community.

Despite the staff shortages, Ness said the Lodi police station will still be open, and he’s confident the remaining officers will keep the peace.

“I’m confident with the staff that is still here that they are going to give 100 percent,” Freitag said. “They’re just going to be short of officers.”

Brandner stated there will still be a proactive police presence and that anyone who thinks they can swoop in and commit crimes without getting caught is mistaken.

Daily Register Senior Reporter Lyn Jerde contributed to this report.

Follow Brad on Twitter @BradMikeAllen or call him at 608-745-3510.

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