Residents and business owners again feel comfortable stopping by the Lodi Police Department after a wave of uncertainty about flooding and several high-ranking officer departures, said Melissa Randall-O’Neil, the department’s administrative assistant.
Some people who have been arrested expressed understanding to officers about why laws require arrests in certain situations, Randall-O’Neil said. A few even thanked officers for continuing to focus on public safety issues despite various challenges in recent months.
Chief of Police Scott Klicko, Lt. Craig Freitag, Patrol Officer Michael Andrews and Police Commission President Robert Westby all resigned in May.
Walk-in traffic to the police department dropped after record flooding forced police to close off South Main Street on March 14. Fewer phone calls came in after the spate of resignations in May.
But officials said since Lodi entered into a $13,900 monthly contract with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, public perceptions have been more positive.
The Lodi Police Department also has hired a new patrol officer, who starts July 8.
“It’s business as usual around here,” Randall-O’Neil said.
Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Wayne Smith has been filling in for the police chief since May 20 while the city searches for a new chief. It feels like familiar ground for Smith, partly because his daughter graduated from Lodi High School.
Smith said in his 30 years of law enforcement experience, this is the first time he recalls a city having to contract with the sheriff’s office for administrative aid.
The police departures also came amid a major software transition across Columbia County.
Randall-O’Neil said Smith quickly got the hang of leading the department and helped the department through switching to an entirely new records system.
The application for the police chief position closes July 22, and Smith said the city could hire a chief by September or October. The contract with the sheriff’s office expires in December.
Smith said he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for him to choose the city’s next police lieutenant, as it would be best for the new chief to make that decision. He said it’s possible one of the patrol officers could be promoted from within at some point.
Despite various “unknowns” about how to merge his experience with the needs of the city and its police department, Smith said the last month has been a good and stable experience.
“They’ve got a really good thing going here. They’ve got a really good base,” Smith said. “All those concerns didn’t come to fruition.”
Smith said his focus areas in Lodi have been to ensure the department continues to have good equipment, competitive wages, successful training efforts and stable leadership in an effort to retain its officers.
“The city is lucky to have them. It’s one thing to work with an officer on the street. It’s another to figure out how their department runs,” Smith said.
He said the dedicated young officers who remain and the many residents who have expressed support have been “outstanding.”
Smith said residents’ concerns about whether the department’s future was in jeopardy have mostly been satisfied.
Having a police presence feels natural in Lodi, Smith said, because some residents work as police officers in other cities. That police presence is important because people tend to feel more confident in sharing information, which ultimately helps officers better enforce laws, he said.
Randall-O’Neil added the remaining Lodi patrol officers have been flexible about working 12-hour shifts to cover public safety while the department moves to fill its ranks again.
The city and the police department have also collaborated in recent weeks to revise city ordinances to allow for additional background checks before liquor licenses are issued and improve the efficiency of working programs in the police department, Randall-O’Neil said.
“It’s a good working relationship,” she said. I feel like we’re on the same page.”