The Calistoga Police Department is taking a step toward modernization with the purchase of new computer equipment for its patrol cars.
The city council on Tuesday approved $75,000 for the purchase of Mobile Data Computers, standard law enforcement equipment that, among other things, allow officers to document incidents on-site and communicate more efficiently with dispatchers while in the field. The Calistoga Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in Napa County that does not have MDCs.
The new MDCs will in part free up dispatchers to handle emergency and other calls; allow officers to write incident reports on-site, and keep them in the field longer. It will generally streamline the process, said Police Chief Mitch Celaya. Reports will also be recorded in real time and therefore be more precise and accurate. MDCs are also equipped with GPS tracking to locate where officers are in the field.
The new equipment will also aid with recruiting new officers. The department is still operating at 40 percent. Out of 10 positions, the department is down three and will be down another one when Sergeant Tim Martin retires at the end of the year. Celaya is also retiring at the end of the year.
During city budget meetings earlier this year, Celaya argued for more funding for the neglected department with “funding and staffing issues that have been ignored and are now coming to a head,” he said at the time.
On Tuesday, Celaya said he has heard more than one comment from job candidates about the lack of computers in the patrol cars.
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“Sometimes it’s about image. The MDCs say ‘We are professional. The organization is up to date with the times and using standard technology.’ It’s just like any other job, where a candidate looks to see if the company or business is moving with the times,” Celaya said.
The new equipment is slated for delivery in 8 to 10 weeks but the chief is hoping it will get here sooner.
Aside from technology, the department still falls behind in salary and retirement compensation compared with other area departments.
“How do we fix that? This is a great organization with a good relationship with the community, but potential employees look for professional growth,” Celaya said, adding retirement packages in St. Helena and Napa are higher by about 20%.
“What can we do to be competitive in this area? You’ve heard that expression ‘you get what you pay for?’” he said.
Calistoga and St. Helena City Councils recently approved a shared-services agreement clarifying the terms under which one police department can help the other during staffing shortages. Celaya has also been authorized by the city to engage a consultant to objectively weigh in with options for the department. That report is slated to be presented to the council by early October.