The Livingston City Council meeting on Tuesday night was marked by heated exchanges and no real progress to improve the city’s Police Department that is suffering from low staffing, threatened walk-offs, and a long, ongoing recruitment process that has failed to bring on an new chief.
City Manager Vanessa Portillo warned the council and residents that the Police Department is facing a situation that will make it inoperable. And at one point, Tuesday night, leaders discussed declaring a state of emergency.
Interim police chief or police leadership services in Livingston has been supervised by the Merced Sheriff’s Department since Nov. 24, 2021, when the city requested assistance from the county. Portillo said the Sheriff’s Office response was quick and they immediately started to help the city. The move came after the abrupt firing of former Livingston Police Chief John Markle.
Fast forward to this summer and the Sheriff’s Department contract with Livingston is set to expire in September.
“We are back to square one,” Portillo said, adding they have not been able to complete the recruitment of an interim chief of police.
On Tuesday night, leaders, police officers and members of the public went back and forth with arguments for and against extending the contract with the Sheriff’s Department, and/or appointing new leadership from within — perhaps promoting a captain who would help lead and train officers.
A vote to do extend the contract while the recruitment process continues failed in a 2-2 vote with one council member abstaining from the vote.
“We are responsible as a council to ensure that public safety services are provided for the citizens of Livingston,” said Mayor Juan Aguilar Jr. “I would love to have our own police chief. We are not there yet. I don’t want another agency running the Police Department, but in this situation, it’s the best case scenario.”
The issue has not been resolved. The city attorney pointed out that if they declared a state of emergency, the county’s Sheriff’s Department would be the agency to respond.
Stay tuned for updates to this story. This was a late-breaking developing story before the Times deadline this week.