Millbrae police force reaches full strength

Police reached full staffing levels this week for the first time in four years after using volunteers and other creative stopgaps to keep the city safe.

A new 18-month collective bargaining agreement between police and the city approved Tuesday coincides with the swearing in of two new officers and the introduction of a police dog, which is the city’s first.

The department now has a full set of 20 officers for the first time since 2004, during which time there have been very few crime sprees or violent crimes in the city, police and city officials said.

The department has made ends meet by using 20 to 25 volunteers, innovative technology and cutting costs for shared services and personnel.

“They’ve done a good job taking care of the community with the staffing that they have,” Councilmember Marge Colapietro said. “I really am so grateful for the loyalty and dedication that the volunteers and [police] have shown.”

The department also uses cutting-edge gadgets to stay ahead of criminals. Patrol cars are equipped with laptops and digital widescreen video cameras that record once an officer turns on the car’s emergency lights.

The images are automatically recorded onto the laptop. When cruisers arrive back at the station, the video is automatically downloaded and stored for one year. The technology keeps officers out on patrol instead of laboring over administrative duties, police said.

Millbrae also saves $100,000 annually by sharing police Chief Thomas Hitchcock with Brisbane and another $350,000 by consolidating its dispatch services with the county, according to City Manager Ralph Jaeck.

The new deal replaces an agreement that expired Dec. 31. It includes an 8.5 percent salary increase retroactive to Jan. 1 and another 3 percent pay hike July 1. The salaries will still be below San Mateo County average but will help with recruitment and retention, Sgt. John Aronis said.

The extra officers boost patrol, Aronis said. School resource and traffic officers have been used to fill the vacant officer positions.

The major battles police face involve graffiti, street crimes such as gang activity, and also spurts of car burglaries on Hillcrest and Skyline boulevards, Aronis said.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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