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Lompoc PD launching Special Investigations Unit

LOMPOC, Calif. - Shootings and violent crime are up in Lompoc and the city police department has a new plan to fight it. It's launching a Special Investigations Unit later this month.

Police are busy responding to calls, but Captain Kevin Martin says they haven't had enough officers to dedicate a team to proactively investigate violent crime.

"For some time now the police department has had to pull back and just give the meat and potatoes of what law enforcement is, which is patrol," Martin said.

There were 37 shootings in the first six months of the year in Lompoc.

Mayor Jenelle Osborne says addressing crime has been her #1 issue since she was elected in 2016.

"Unfortunately, prior councils made decisions in the budget that caused us not to stay proactive," Osborne said. "It caused us to be a reactive public safety community and we've seen the detriments of that."

With more money in the police budget, more new officers are being hired, put through the academy and trained. That's allowing three officers to move from the beat to a new Special Investigations Unit. It will address the most pressing needs; Right now that's shootings and violent crime.

"They're not going to be guided by the calls for service through the dispatch center," Martin said. "They're going to be out there turning over stones, working these cases and hopefully finding some of these guns and some of the problems that we're having right now."

A fully-staffed Lompoc Police Department would have 48 positions filled. Right now they have 40 officers with three or four set to come on board soon.

"We're now at a point through the hard work of our human resources here at the city to hire the officers we needed to get the staffing level to a point where I could pull three people from patrol and assign them to this detail," Martin said.

Lompoc typically hires officers who are just starting their careers. They interview and test applicants before paying for them to attend the Police Academy for six months. Then there is a 21-week field officer training program.

After serving a few years in Lompoc, officers will often leave for a job in a bigger city that pays more.

"I can't fault an officer for looking for the best path for their career," Mayor Osborne said. "But it is of concern for our community to not have that longevity of officers. Officers really in modern community policing design build relationships in the community. If we have officers leaving after four or five years, we're not building that long term relationship that's part of a crime prevention model. If you don't have those relationships, it's hard to prevent crime."

Osborne is hopeful voters will approve a cannabis tax increase in September that could help fund new equipment and higher salaries for officers to entice them to stay in Lompoc.

Osborne and Martin both say they appreciate all of the hard work the officers have been doing with limited staffing.

"I am hopeful that we are turning that corner and beginning to right that ship," Osborne said. "We want to be a safe community for everyone."

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Scott Hennessee

Scott Hennessee anchors the NewsChannel 12 evening newscasts and KKFX Fox 11 news at 10 p.m. To learn more about Scott, click here. click here

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