Two months ago, the California City Police Department faced a challenge that could have crippled many other law enforcement agencies.
Following injuries to two officers, the department had been reduced to a total patrol staff of five, far below the level of 21 city officials preferred for the town of around 13,000 people, roughly 65 miles southeast of Bakersfield.
“Myself and four officers were spread pretty thin,” said Police Chief Eric Hurtado. “I’ve had to work a couple 24-hour shifts because there was nobody else.”
He said that for about a month, the four officers in the department worked 12-hour shifts five to six days a week just to make sure somebody was out on patrol in California City.
Although the officers managed to keep up with their full workloads as best they could, the department reached out to California Highway Patrol to handle some traffic complaints, and some investigations were delayed.
The chief called the situation a “crisis.”
But the situation has since turned around, thanks in part to a group of recent retirees, who have decided to step back into the uniform in order to help out their former coworkers.
“This is my home, and it hurt me greatly to walk away at such a period,” said Sgt. Ben Blanton, who retired five months ago and decided to come back to work after seeing the dire straights the police department found itself in.
Blanton, 57, who has worked in law enforcement for 33 years, said he had been spending his retirement working on his house and taking private security gigs when he felt the call to return.
“If you’re a cop try not to fall in love with your city,” he said. “It will keep you around, and God help me, I love Cal City. Go figure.”
Blanton will join four other retirees who will come back part-time. They will take on a myriad of tasks, including administrative duties, follow-up interviews of witnesses and cold case investigations.
“They want to help the city,” Hurtado said. “They want to help the department, and they’re only coming back to do that.”
The retirees will bolster another five new police recruits who have been attracted to the city over the past month after the California City City Council approved pay increases of 27.5 percent for officers.
Three of the recruits are still in training, while two have begun active duty with the department.
Hurtado said he hoped to phase out the retirees as soon as he could.
He said he and the other four officers were beginning to feel the relief of not having to constantly work now that the additional help had arrived, and more could trickle in soon.
“This is a temporary measure and kind of gets us to the point where we can fill those positions permanently,” he said of the retirees. “Each year we’ll reevaluate to see where we stand.”