Since mid-August, county sheriff’s deputies have patrolled community events with rifles in hand or slung over a shoulder, but Tracy residents shouldn’t expect to see local police with long guns at the weekend farmers market.
The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office announced Aug. 16 that, in light of recent mass shootings around the nation, deputies would carry rifles in addition to their pistols to “both dissuade any potential threats and also reduce their reaction time should a life threatening event occur.”
“We understand and appreciate the need to balance the public’s concern for safety and the desire for law enforcement to not appear threatening, however safety comes first,” the announcement said.
Tracy’s interim chief of police, Alex Neicu, shares the sheriff’s emphasis on safety, but his officers won’t routinely be carrying rifles.
“We want our officers to be able to have conversations with people. We want them to shake hands. We want them to laugh, to discuss whatever the concerns are,” Neicu said on Aug. 26. “We’re there to protect the community and we’re not there to really distract from the event.”
The Tracy Police Department has 93 sworn officers, and each one is assigned a rifle and has access to a variety of tools to respond quickly to any emergency.
“One thing I’ve always stressed is you take best practices and you apply them to local conditions. And just like the sheriff is doing that for the area he is concerned about, I do the same thing with our community,” Neicu said. “I look at the necessity to provide a high level of protection, but also I balance it with our desire to engage the community as closely as possible.”
“I’m responsible for Tracy and I look at Tracy’s conditions.”
Even though officers don’t carry their rifles all the time, they keep them close at hand.
“The firepower is not the concern here,” Neicu said. “It’s just the accessibility and balancing that.”
Tracy police have already increased their presence at all large events.
“The public is likely to see more officers around, a diversity of assignments — some of the officers are going to be on foot, some are going to be on bicycles, there are some in cars driving the perimeter,” Neicu said.
He said the department now assigns officers to the farmers market on 10th Street on Saturday mornings. People will also see police at upcoming events, including Saturday’s Blues Brews & BBQ on the Front Street Plaza and the Downtown Tracy Wine Stroll on Sept. 21.
“They are there to meet people. Obviously they have the safety concerns in mind, but the other big part is I want them to meet the community. It’s important for our community members and our officers to know each other,” he said. “We want to preserve the approachability of our officers and balance that with the safety concerns.”
Neicu said the department always monitors national events along with local conditions and can change its methods accordingly.