The Lompoc Police Department (LPD) has a long history of outstanding service to the community. Many of the officers are homegrown and they take immense pride in our town. 

Although the city can’t seem to recruit enough officers to fill their authorized staffing, that doesn’t stop them from doing the tough job of law enforcement in a city plagued with gang violence.

Last month Noozhawk reported that after a string of shootings, a car chase, and contacts with known gang members, a 15-year-old with a sawed-off shotgun, a 16-year-old with a loaded revolver and several adults were arrested.

“Aside from the above arrest cases, the Lompoc Police Department has investigated at least 10 confirmed shootings within the city and confiscated 15 firearms during this short period of time,” LPD Sgt. Chip Arias said.

What’s most disturbing about these arrests is the juveniles who were involved. Why they are carrying guns around town instead of skateboards is a question that has bothered law enforcement authorities for decades.

A few years ago, the City Council enacted a gang injunction that was effective in identifying and preventing known gang members from gathering to create problems. But the loss of officers through retirement and transfers to other agencies forced the closure of the gang unit, whose job it was to identify gang members and enforce the injunction.

Former Councilman Jim Mosby has stated: “You can do all the injunctions you want, but in some cases, you ruin people’s lives so that they can’t make a correction.”

Well, maybe the scofflaws should have thought about the consequences of their actions before setting off on a life as a gang member.

Despite the recent success in arresting gang members and seizing their guns, which is commendable, one success or a few successes does not provide the accurate gauge of who’s winning the war.

The work of the detectives and street officers shows they are capable of being successful, but if they continue to be outnumbered and outgunned by the gangs and other criminals, the war is humanly impossible to win.

All the more reason resource allocation is so critical; our law enforcement professionals have proven themselves capable of doing the job well, but not adding more officers and equipment clearly sets up the Police Department for failure, and ultimately likewise our community for failure.

Officers are working a considerable amount of overtime to make up for short staffing, and officers worked extra shifts to cover those who were out sick due to Covid-19.

The stakes and dangers linked to mental and physical fatigue associated with long hours are even higher for a police officer handling weapons and evidence than a for real estate landlord, a mortgage lender, or a warehouse owner. It also can adversely impact an officer’s family and a healthy life balance.

How to solve the staffing issues: “Increase police officer salaries” sounds like a line from a broken record, but that is the single No. 1 action by far to enhance recruitments and hiring. We are not talking benefits, but cash in the wallet that will entice a young academy graduate or an experienced officer to ply her/his trade in Lompoc.

Another factor is that when someone is doing a fantastic job, the public should praise them. Don’t blame, don’t criticize, but rather commit to join the fight against crime.

Ask what you can do to help, rather than flapping your lips as you misread a budget document and mischaracterize the situation. The public needs to be eyes and ears for the LPD and report gang gatherings, and neighbors who have gang activities going on. And — when they see a crime or violent act, report it.

LPD Chief Joseph Mariani has a message for the community and the men and women of the Lompoc Police Department:

“I told them how grateful I was for them; they have gone above and beyond during a year that has presented unprecedented and unexpected challenges. In my 45 years of law enforcement experience I have never witnessed the level of commitment and work ethic that the members of the LPD demonstrate on a daily basis; they truly view themselves as part of the community they serve.”

In the meantime, if you are a person who wants a challenge and is willing to put in the time and effort to qualify for a position in law enforcement, the Lompoc Police Department is the place to work.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.