WASCO, Calif. (KERO) — In October 2022, the City of Wasco voted to start their own police department to better address local public safety concerns. Now, the Wasco Police Department is starting to come to life.
While still very much a department of one, Chief Charlie Fivecoat, there has been significant progress over the last three months to build the Wasco police force from the ground up.
Fivecoat says supply chain issues and ongoing law enforcement staffing shortages are challenges the new WPD is working to overcome.
"The startup of the department, there's several logistical pieces that come into play," said Fivecoat. "You take some of the simple beginnings, like what kind of patch are we going to have on the uniform. One doesn't fall out of the sky, you have to work on it."
And uniform regulations are just the beginning. Chief Fivecoat says there's so much more than one might thing that goes into building a brand new police department.
"We're looking at staffing, both commissioned and noncomissioned, being a post-certified agency with the State of California, applying for authorization to have a dispatch center through Cal OES, buying all the equipment that goes with that, like radios and CAD displays and the weaponry," lists Fivecoat.
According to Fivecoat, getting some of the equipment the department needs has been a challenge.
"It's an interesting time to be in this business. Supply chain issues, everything that's happened after covid, trying to find vehicles," said Fivecoat. "Almost impossible in the business."
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But just when the chief thought getting cars for his department would be an impossible feat —
"One Saturday morning when I was worried about where I was going to find cars, I got a phone call from a vendor for another piece of equipment who said, 'I don't know if this is true, but I think there's 16 vehicles you might be able to find in the Arizona/New Mexico area,'" said Fivecoat. "I started probing around, and sure enough we found 16 brand new vehicles that weren't even off the production line yet."
WPD bought 6 of those vehicles, which Fivecoat says are currently in transit to Wasco. Now he's in the process of determining how the new cruisers should be painted, what icons, logos, and identifying marks they need, and what sorts of lights and sirens to equip them with.
According to Wasco City Manager Scott Hurlbert, one of the reasons the city wanted its own police force is due to low staffing levels in the Kern County Sheriff's Office.
"The situation with the Kern County Sheriff, the deputies do a fantastic job out here, they're just experiencing the same staffing problems that many law enforcement agencies are throughout the state and even throughout the nation," said Hurlbert.
Fivecoat says the staffing shortage is something WPD is also facing, but he's still hoping to draw in and retain good law enforcement candidates.
"As far as the challenges for us, we are not unlike any other agency. One of the advantages I may have is we're putting this organization together. It's new. It's from the ground up," said Fivecoat. "It allows us to establish the culture and philosophy of the police department from the beginning."
Some Wasco residents spoke with 23ABC off-camera, telling us they know about the police department starting up, but they're not aware of any major updates about its progress yet.
Fivecoat says the community is his first priority.
23ABC NEWS IN-DEPTH: CRIME IN WASCO
According to Neighborhood Scout, residents of Wasco have a 1 in 127 chance of being the victim of a violent crime. The California state average is 1 in 227, making a resident of Wasco nearly twice as likely to experience a violent crime than residents of other California cities.
87 percent of California communities have a lower crime rate than Wasco, and the city has one of the highest rates of motor vehicle theft in the country, with residents having a 1 in 142 chance of having their car stolen.
"I'm real big on being involved in the community. I think the citizens of this community and every community deserve to have a police agency that they can be proud of and that they have trust in, and that's what I'm hoping to accomplish," said Fivecoat.
According to Hurlbert, as the city continues to make progress with the police department, they will release progress updates to the community about the ongoing development process for the Wasco Police Department.