Chief looks to 2019

ATASCADERO — As 2018 came to a close the Atascadero News asked the City’s Police Chief Jerel Haley to weigh in for a few minutes on the year that was, and what he expected coming up.
A take away quote, “I’m not a sociologist to have answers to all the most complicated situations.”
Through the year, he said, Atascadero faced much the same challenges as had every other city in California as the effects of new policy from the legislature made reforms to criminal justice.
“One of the biggest things we dealt with in 2018 are the complaints of aggressive transient behaviors,” he said.
Specifically, that boils down to a noticeable increase in complaints of aggressive panhandling, public urination and defecation, and public intoxication, a trend, said the Chief, over the last five years, as infractions that used to lead to an arrest are now a citation and a ticket.
“Atascadero actually does a good job of offering public facilities, I reject the notion that those are because people can’t find a better place to relieve themselves,” he said. “There are [behavioral issues] some people have that are beyond our control.”
Some new complaints for the local community last year were in the apparent sudden noticeability of nitrous-oxide abuse. The little silver or blue cylinders commonly known by the brand name Whip-it have several legitimate uses, but those wouldn’t explain their dissemination as debris in gutters, planters and landscaping along El Camino Real.
What finally sparked increased police interest were complaints in a specific neighborhood where the detritus became extreme.
“We do have an officer on that,” Chief Haley said while adding that compared to the other problems the community faces he felt it was relatively minor. “It is the first time in my career that it’s gone beyond something just kids do. What’s really concerning here is that it looks like the individual responsible is driving while using.”
Nitrous Oxide, the gas inside whipped cream aerosols or dispensers is less harmful on a single exposure than solvents and other chemicals, but permanent neurological symptoms can develop over repeated use. The gas would be particularly hazardous to use while operating a motor vehicle because, aside from the mental effects, the gas displaces air in the lungs, temporarily preventing oxygen transfer to the blood. The heart beats faster and causes limbs to feel tingly or heavy, impairing movement. That would have obvious repercussions for steering a car. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that at least 10 percent of teens will use inhalants at some point, but whippet abuse often goes unreported as adults can purchase large quantities with ease.
While that issue fits into the matrix of other public safety concerns the department is dealing with in 2019, Haley notes life wasn’t and isn’t all bad.
“We’ve had a number of officers eligible for promotion this year and several taking on new responsibilities,” he said, adding that a new recruit is going through training at the moment and another officer hits the beat on Jan. 7 after transferring in to Atascadero.
The overall “look” of the officers on staff continues to change as well as a temporary uniform policy has been extended indefinitely. Officers who wish to display appropriate tattoos on their arms and legs may do so under a pilot program which weighed public input in 2018.
“We got a few negative reactions but overall the public was overwhelmingly in support of allowing officers to have tattoos on display while on duty,” he said, adding that no profanity or racist material would be allowed. “We wouldn’t have someone working for us that would have that on their body anyway.”
For the New Year, he said the department’s primary concern stays on recruiting and retaining the type of officer residents want to be a part of their community.
“We’ve worked very hard to create a culture of respect and camaraderie that’s [like a] family people want to be a part of,” he said. “That’s a challenge to keep good people shared with other departments [specifically San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande], but I think we’re succeeding.”


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