(Photo courtesy of Martinez Police Department/Facebook)

The good news is that the Martinez Police Department has filled almost all of its police officer and dispatcher vacancies, thanks in large measure to a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in November 2018.

But those new officers need vehicles, radios, firearms and other tools of the law enforcement trade, and police Chief Manjit Sappal asked the Martinez City Council  last month for a one-time “injection of capital” of nearly $450,000 to pay for that equipment.

“We’re growing, but that comes with some challenges,” said Sappal, who on Feb. 19 also described a handful of proposed duty changes among department leadership he hopes will improve investigation, homeless outreach and neighborhood crime issues. “We’re at the point we’ll need an infusion of funds to cover the equipment we need.”

Martinez police Chief Manjit Sappal.

The passage of Measure X provided money for “quality of life and essential services” including public safety, maintaining open space and recreational programs and local homelessness issues.

That money, Sappal told the council, has helped his department replenish vacancies and retain officers, dispatchers and support staff. The Martinez Police Department has 34 of its 37 police officer positions filled, with full staffing expected later this year. Six of the department’s eight dispatcher positions are also filled.

Funding decisions such as this will be part of the city’s normal budgeting process, which will pick up in earnest by early April. City Manager Eric Figueroa said the proposal by Sappal “is a significant ask” above and beyond the typical annual police department budgeting.

But council members seemed sympathetic to Sappal’s request. Mayor Rob Schroder said public safety is the city’s top priority, and that he campaigned for passage of Measure X.

“We need to give them the tools to do the job,” Schroder said. Added Councilwoman Debbie McKillop, “Money’s at a premium, but we will find the money to help ensure our police officers are safe, and that we’re keeping our community safe.”

Sappal also told the council he wants to adjust the department’s administration structure to install a “professional standards sergeant,” and to create new positions (with existing officers) for a school resource officer, a second community resource officer who would work on homelessness issues, two traffic enforcement officers who would focus on accident investigations and speed enforcement, and two officers who would specialize in neighborhood crime issues.

Council members said they would leave decisions about any department reorganization to the chief.