PARADISE, Calif. — The Paradise Police Department has a new strategy to attract law enforcement to the force that lost nearly half its sworn officers following the Camp Fire.
The department is offering $20,000 sign-on bonuses for experienced officers ready to transfer to a department and a town rebuilding from the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire.
“Out of our paid staff, which included police officers, animal control and dispatch, we had 18 people lose their homes up here,” said Chief Eric Reinbold, who also lost his home in the fire. “So, some of them have moved out of state, and others have gone to different agencies for various reasons.”
Prior to the fire, Reinbold said the department had 21 sworn officers on staff. Of those, 18 worked investigations and patrol. Now, though, the department has only 11 patrol officers, in addition to Reinbold and his lieutenant.
By offering the bonus — half of which would be paid at the time an officer is hired and the other half paid after a 12-month period of probation — Reinbold hopes to add four veteran cops to his team.
“Having the understanding that you’re not going to be call-to-call and buried in paperwork every day, it’s going to be proactive, community oriented (policing),” he said. “We really want to address the needs of the community and do our best to prevent thefts and make sure that the people that are coming back and rebuilding don’t get victimized again.”
Reinbold said it costs the police department about $30,000 to hire someone, put them in the academy and then train them. It can take 15 months before a new officer can ride by themselves. Bringing in an experienced officer cuts down on that time.
The lack of housing is an issue, Reinbold said. One academy recruit had to drop out due to a lack of housing. Reinbold hopes to attract officers willing to commute from places such as Chico.
“It’s been a struggle. We’ve definitely had our ups and downs,” said Officer Justin Chamness, the department’s 2018 officer of the year. “The first couple months after the fire, we were still in a crisis-type mode. And now, we’re starting to come out of that, starting to rebuild, finally getting the debris and trying to bring the town back.”
Like Reinbold, Chamness lost his home in the Camp Fire. He now commutes daily from Gridley. Chamness said the department’s staffing issues have led to increased overtime and fewer days off of work. He supports the new effort to grow the department.
“(The) town’s on the right track to recruit quality, experienced officers up here,” he said. “That’s really what we need right now. And, I think it’s a good deal to attract experienced people up here.”
Reinbold said the town council approved the expenditure at last month’s meeting and allocated a total $80,000 for hiring.