New Rohnert Park public safety director looks to stabilize department hit by turmoil

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Since his arrival in Rohnert Park a little more than a month ago, Tim Mattos, the new director of the city’s Department of Public Safety, has launched a substantial restructuring of the city’s dual police and fire agency to address past shortcomings and establish a culture of mentorship and oversight.

Mattos, 55, formerly of Suisun City, is attempting to reshape the department at a time of particular turmoil. The police force came under intense scrutiny last year over its controversial drug and cash seizure program, triggering two federal civil rights lawsuits, the sudden retirement of longtime chief Brian Masterson and the resignation of a decorated sergeant who led the agency’s seizure operations targeting motorists.

A third case, initiated by a family whose home was searched in 2014 by Rohnert Park police without a warrant, prompted a federal judge last month to order the city to improve officers’ training on probation searches to ensure they follow the law.

A consultant was hired last year to suggest improvements in day-to-day operations, and the city last summer launched an outside police auditor — former Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan — to review procedures in place under Masterson.

Recommendations from both efforts have been implemented while Jordan’s audit moves forward, with no date set for completion, city staff said.

Mattos also is reorganizing the chain of command within the department to increase oversight of personnel, more than doubling the number of supervisory hours worked by command-level staff.

“I don’t think anybody was sleeping on the job. I would say it was a structure that created an environment that made it difficult to have the necessary oversight that was needed,” Mattos said of past leadership. “With the new structure in place, we can set expectations of oversight and supervision. It’s also putting together the building blocks that provide us the ability to start really developing our people.”

Under the new plan, three commander positions and an administrative sergeant role will be transitioned into four lieutenant positions. Previously, the department lacked lieutenants. Going forward, those posts will act as an additional layer of supervision for sergeants and police officers, Mattos said. The 103-employee department currently includes 68 sworn officers.

Two deputy chiefs — one each focused on police and fire — are also being added to serve below Mattos. The internal recruitment process opened last week and Mattos hopes to fill all six jobs by the middle of March. Aaron Johnson, the department’s current police commander, and Mike Bates, his counterpart in fire services, are expected to be the only internal applicants for the respective deputy chief roles.

“It’s important to put the right people in place in an agency that’s both police and fire,” said Mattos. “There’s not many of them, and so it was a decision that I thought about a lot and came to the conclusion that we need to start in-house.”

The department, with an annual budget of more than $20 million, is also resolving a longstanding shortage of public safety officers that led to mandatory overtime shifts at the city’s two firehouses. The department is closing in on full employment, Mattos said, the result of stepped-up recruitment and retention efforts, including the recent resumption of police dog and school resource officer specialty programs.

Six recruits are enrolled in the police academy and are expected to graduate in June. Another six are scheduled to start the academy in April. Through a financial incentive program approved by the City Council last year, Rohnert Park has attracted three new police officers from elsewhere in California. As a result, the department has dramatically reduced the need for mandatory overtime and occasional minimal police patrol coverage, said acting patrol commander Jeff Nicks.

“We’re at the stage right now where we’ve got the firehouses staffed completely,” said Nicks. “That gives us the ability to staff the (ladder) truck, as well as … the fire engine. And because we’re public safety, we’re all trained to do police and fire, and so we can supplement our fire response with our patrol guys.”

Late last year, the department accepted delivery of a new $1 million ladder truck, which will help fire staff battle more major fires. The city also acquired a new $600,000 fire engine two weeks ago to replace one that aged out of service after roughly 20 years. The fire engine will go into service later this month and the ladder truck is ultimately set to be stored at a planned station on the city’s west side.

That long- delayed third firehouse, on the west side of the SMART commuter tracks, where the city has seen an influx of residential development, was last expected to be finished by the summer of 2021 at a cost of $4 million. But rising building costs on the 6,100-square-foot facility have forced the city to redesign the station, cutting frills and as much 1,900 square feet from its final layout to stay on budget and begin construction by the middle of 2020. No completion date has been set, according to a city spokesman.

Still very early into his tenure, Mattos said he’s confident in the dual police-fire model going forward and hopes to tackle his department’s ongoing challenges, starting by filling the key leadership roles over the next month.

“I will say that I didn’t come here with any preconceived notions,” he said. “I really wanted to come in with an open mind and I have been just overwhelmingly pleased with what I have found here. I’ve enjoyed every minute inside this building and getting to know some of the community. The personnel here are just exceptional. I’m just so excited to see where we go, honestly.”

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