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Ridgecrest Chief of Police Jed McLaughlin addressed the council on the serious staffing concerns of the Police Department. / Laura Austin File Photo

Chief McLaughlin presents major RPD staffing concerns

By Susan Read News Review Staff Writer– 

The City Council meeting of August 17, 2022 offered a robust agenda with important discussions, actions, and announcements.

Ridgecrest Chief of Police Jed McLaughlin was first to address the council, presenting a comprehensive update on the serious staffing concerns of the Police Department. 

Chief McLaughlin made the significant point that in July 2022 four police officer positions were eliminated to increase current officer pay by 15 percent, within the current budget. He cited non-competitive pay as one of the leading reasons that Ridgecrest has lost 11 officers since January 2011. There was no cost-of-living increase given to department employees for well over ten years, which added to the exodus of officers. Other areas of the department in serious need of more staff includes dispatch and the records division. Reduced staffing has serious effects on a city, where community safety and office safety are the department’s number one concerns. “Every department works hard to serve this community,” McLaughlin said. “This year, our officers must devote almost 80 percent of their time per call on increased reporting paperwork introduced in January and required from the Racial and Identity Profile Act (RIPA), the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) and the California Incident-Based Reporting System (CIBRS).

“Recruitment and staffing are a national problem, some say crisis,” McLaughlin continued. The chief stressed a strategy that includes recruiting locally, hiring out-of-area academy graduates, establishing a pipeline from the Police Explorers and Police and Community Together (PACT) volunteers, and developing a relationship with the military Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Reaching out to the public with flyers, social media posts, and police department open house events are vital ways to send the message to the community that the city budget must include more money to recruit, train, and retain police, dispatchers, records clerks, and animal control officers. In closing, McLaughlin said, “We need to take care of our officers.”

Parks and Recreation Interim Director Nerissa Wegener asked the Council to approve the Community Development Activity Agreement with the County of Kern for funding improvements to the lower softball fields in Leroy Jackson Sports Complex. The specific improvement outlined was the installation of a permanent outer fence around the fields, replacing the current temporary fencing. “This will not divide the fields, this is simply an exterior fence,” Wegener reported. “This will also allow for lockdown of the fields so better maintenance can be provided when the fields are not in play.” Funds are provided through the Community Development Block Grant at the county level, not local revenue. The Council approved accepting the terms of the receipt of funds and authorized the City Manager to sign the agreement with Kern County.

Ridgecrest Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RAVCVB) Board Director Megan McKenzie provided an update of activities and area status reports. The Bureau of Land Management is doing an environmental assessment outside the Trona Pinnacles, which hasn’t been done in a long time.

Recent flooding in Death Valley damaged many roads there, some of which may not be functional for up to four months; however, Highway 190 should now be open. 

The Naval base will hold an event on Wednesday and Thursday, September 21-22, 2022, with the California Welcome Center hosting a reception on the Tuesday night before.

On October 8, 2022, there will be overnight soccer and softball tournaments at Leroy Jackson Sports Complex. RACVB will host film industry experts and location scouts on October 22, 2022. 

The Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce will have a speaker at its monthly luncheon meeting on Tuesday, October 11, 2022, to talk about the popular annual Petroglyph Festival. The festival will take place during the first week of November, focused more on Native American cultures and traditional pow-wows this year. The usual car show will be a separate stand-alone event. “Base petroglyph tours will not be given this year,” McKenzie said, “but will hopefully return in the Spring of 2023.”

Mayor Eric Bruen welcomed back the students, faculties, and administrations of all local schools. He stressed the importance of safe driving by the public in school zones and everywhere students are present. Bruen invited the public to the Desert Empire Fairgrounds on August 27 for the second annual Boy Scout Carnival. He reminded the public of this year’s Desert Empire Fair, October 21-23, 2022, and noted that several City Council members will be there to meet, greet, and share information with everyone.

Mayor Bruen brought two items for public attention, one being the Council’s review of options for defining public comment parameters. Each citizen who wishes to make a public comment during the appropriate point in proceedings is allotted a five-minute timeframe without comment from the Council. The total period of public comment time will not exceed one hour. Once public comment times are closed, Council may provide direction to staff to follow up on the public question or concern. The second item of note from the mayor was that presentations are made for informative purposes, after which the public may contact the city for additional information.

The City Council meets on the first and third Wednesdays of every month. The next meeting is scheduled for September 7, 2022.