Community survey yields positive feedback from Windsor

by BERT WILLIAMS, News Editor
At a time when cities across California are being forced by the
state budget crisis to cut costs, the town of Windsor is saving
money on the service that consumes the largest single portion of
its budget. The service also receives high marks in community
opinion surveys.
The Windsor Police Department costs the town $4 million
annually. According to Town Manager Paul Berlant, that is a third
of the town’s general fund budget. But it is a cost that could run
much higher.
“It’s a very effective and efficient way of doing business for a
smaller town like ours,” said Berlant.
The Police Department’s Annual Report for 2002 (the most recent
available) pegged the annual cost of the Windsor Police Department
at $143 per citizen. That was the lowest per capita cost of any
police department in Sonoma County.
According to the 2002-2003 town budget, the cost had dropped to
$129 per citizen.
The cost of operating the Petaluma Police Department – the next
lowest in the county – was $200 per citizen in 2002. The Healdsburg
Police Department – one of the county’s most expensive – cost its
citizens $280 each.
The primary reason for the cost differential is clear. While all
other cities in Sonoma County maintain stand-alone police
departments, the Windsor Police Department is administered by the
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department.
Most Windsor citizens seem satisfied with their police
department. The results of a community opinion survey, conducted
for the Sheriff’s Department, were made public on Dec. 16, 2003.
The survey indicated that 94.7 percent of Windsor residents rate
the Police Department’s overall performance as good or
“A lot of credit goes to the town council and the town manager,”
said Windsor Police Chief Paul Day, a lieutenant in the Sheriff’s
Department. “This can be a political job, but I have no issues with
the council.”
According to Berlant, that’s because the town council and staff
are satisfied with how things are going at the Police Department.
“Based on what we know now” said Berlant, “we would not make any
The town of Windsor first voted to contract with the Sonoma
County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services at the
time of the town’s incorporation in 1992. A five year contract was
signed in July 1993. In 1998 the town awarded the Sheriff’s
Department a second contract, for 10 years.
Day is the fourth Windsor Police Chief. The first two chiefs,
Jim Piccinini and Bill Cogbill, went on to become County Sheriff.
Cogbill is the current Sheriff. The third Windsor Police Chief,
Dave Sederholm, is now a captain in the Sheriff’s Department.
During the past decade the Sheriff’s Department has contracted
with an independent organization to conduct three community surveys
about the department. The surveys were completed in 1994, 1997 and
2003. Day offered a snapshot of how Windsor residents
To the question, “How safe do you feel in your neighborhood?”
88.4 percent responded favorably in 1994, 91.1 percent in 1997 and
93.1 percent said they felt safe in 2003.
Day noted that Windsor residents have become more concerned
about abandoned vehicles, theft, graffiti and vandalism than they
were in past surveys. But, he said, citizens are less concerned
about gangs and violent crime than in past years.
“To me, that’s a good thing,” Day said, noting that if people
are no longer as concerned about violent crime, they have more time
to worry about annoyances like abandoned vehicles.
Day has recently done cost comparisons with seven other cities
with population numbers similar to Windsor’s. The police
departments of those cities included from 28 to 51 sworn positions.
By contrast, the Windsor Police Department has 17 sworn
Asked how Windsor can get along with so few cops, Day explained
that Windsor is not doing with less services. The town is simply
benefiting from the economies of scale of the Sheriff’s
“You have to have a minimum number to staff shifts,” explained
Day. “For a relief factor, you have to have more than the minimum …
but we can pull from 200 sworn deputies (in the Sheriff’s
Department) when we need to.”
Day said the Sheriff’s Department has crime scene investigators,
a dive team, and a helicopter.
“When there was a murder in Windsor (in December) there were 12
detectives here in a matter of minutes,” he said.
Berlant continued Day’s cost savings theme. “We have no jail
cells, no dispatcher,” said Berlant. “We don’t have to tool up for
services required only occasionally.”
Berlant also said the police department requires fewer officers
in its hierarchy – just a lieutenant and two sergeants – because
backups come from the Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s not just that we’re saving money,” said Berlant. “We have
resources through the Sheriff’s Department that we would not
otherwise have. And we don’t pay for them unless we use them.”
Windsor police officers make a higher salary than they would
with the average small town police department, because they are on
the pay scale of the Sheriff’s Department. The result is that the
turnover rate is lower than on many small town departments – an
average of 3.8 years.
“I’m really pleased with the service we’re getting,” said
Berlant. “Both the cost and the quality of the service have
exceeded our expectations.”
Windsor Mayor Debora Fudge echoed Berlant’s opinion. “I tend to
forget that they are sheriff’s deputies,” said Fudge. “They act
like town police … The cost savings is incredible, and I don’t see
any weak spots.”
The city of Sonoma is currently in discussions with the
sheriff’s department about a contract similar to Windsor’s.
The Windsor Police Department is soon to a add a full time
traffic officer to its staff. Day said the new deputy’s
responsibilities will include traffic enforcement, education and
engineering. “He’s going to be a very busy person,” said Day.
The traffic officer will work on a wide range of issues. These
include meeting with citizens on traffic problems, meeting with
town staff on engineering solutions to traffic issues, and
organizing car seat and bicycle safety events. Day said traffic
trailers that display motorists’ speeds as they drive by will
become more visible around town.
Five of Windsor’s 17 sworn police officers are bilingual. All
are male. Day did note, however, that the department’s Community
Services Officer is a woman, though this is not a sworn
Berlant said that, despite current budget pressures, the town
has no plans to cut officers from the police force. It is possible,
he said, that a part time clerical position could be cut as the
town seeks to balance its budget amidst the state’s new fiscal

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