The Morro Bay Police Department announced three new hires reaching into the Central Valley for two and the Bay Area for the other.
According to Chief Jody Cox, Ofc. Dustin Silva comes to Morro Bay from Kern County. A native Californian, Ofc. Silva was raised in Tehachapi.
After high school, he served four years in the U.S. Navy aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, U.S.S. George Washington.
He attended the Kern County Law Enforcement Academy, graduating in 2007 and worked for the Kern County Sheriff’s Department before joining Morro Bay P.D.
“Dustin is considered a rare commodity,” Cox said, “which is finding a seasoned, experienced lateral officer [with a highly qualified background] that is willing to make a transitional move during some of the most difficult times we have seen in law enforcement. Not just the COVID-19 issues we are dealing with, but the general state of law enforcement in our society.”
Ofc. Silva brings more than 13 years of experience, and has worked as a court bailiff, and patrol deputy in the McFarland, Delano and Lamont substations, to which Chief Cox added, “some of which can be pretty rough areas of Kern County.”
He’s worked as a SWAT Operator, and worked several years in specialized narcotic investigations before moving to transportation and court assignments, which Chief Cox noted are more family-friendly assignments.
Chief Cox noted that during his background check, Ofc. Silva “was described as hard-working, loyal, having good judgment and critical decision-making skills. His co-workers described him as a great communicator, having great instincts and leadership abilities, a strong command presence, and being compassionate while maintaining excellent situational awareness. These are the special traits and characteristics we look for in selecting officers for the City of Morro Bay and we believe Dustin will be a great fit for our P.D. team and our community.”
Ofc. Jason Ta comes to Morro Bay from San Jose where he grew up.
“Jason has been pursuing his goal of becoming a police officer since high school,” Chief Cox said, “and had strong family support entering into this profession during some of the most trying times we have seen.”
After high school, Ofc. Ta graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Justice Studies in 2018 and was a Deans Scholar. He completed his POST Academy Training at Fresno City College in August 2019.
Ofc. Ta worked in private security for the last 4-5 years and volunteered with San Jose P.D.’s “Truancy Abatement and Burglary Suppression” program and has volunteered the past few years with groups like “COPS Care Cancer Foundation” and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.).
Ofcs. Silva and Ta started with MBPD on April 20.
Ofc. William Alex Gillespie is originally from Fresno. After graduating high school, he attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and in 2009 completed a bachelor’s degree in Marine Transportation.
Ofc. Gillespie attended Fresno City College Police Academy and after graduating, spent a year with the Fresno Police Department.
He came highly recommended. “Alex received high praises from his former employers,” Chief Cox said. “He was described as an exceptionally hard worker, quick learner with outstanding ethics and integrity, which are key qualities we look for in a peace officer candidate.”
MBPD Cmdr. Amy Watkins said each of the new hires will undergo the same localized field training to get them acclimated to the city, its layout and sort-of introduce them to the community.
“The training program is the same for all officers,” Cmdr. Watkins said, “Officer Silva underwent a condensed version of the same training due to his many years of experience. Officer Silva was in our training program for 8 weeks.
“Officers Ta and Gillespie will complete a 16-week field training program. This program is approved and reviewed by the State of California Commission for Peace Officers Standards and Training. All new officers attend a 2-week orientation that is not counted in the 10 and 16-week training.
“The orientation is not evaluated so it does not count toward training hours.”
During orientation, officers get to know lay of the land. “The orientation,” Cmdr. Watkins said, “is to help better prepare our officers so they are ready for success when they begin their patrol training. This includes city orientation, department policy and procedures, meetings with county law enforcement agencies such as the District Attorney’s Office, probation, court services, mental health, coroner’s office, etc.”
Ofc. Silva and Ofc. Ta replaced the retired Sgt. Rick Catlett and Ofc. Maria Lomeli who left last year for the SLO County Sheriff’s Department. Ofc. Luke Riddering also left Morro Bay for the Sheriff’s Department but Cmdr. Watkins said his vacant position was frozen in budget cuts made by the City Council in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the loss of millions in taxes due to forced business closures and shelter-at-home orders coming down from Sacramento.
Also, Det. Greg Gruich retired July 9 and Ofc. Gillespie was hired to replace him, Cmdr. Watkins said, and started work July 6. So the department is almost again back to full staffing.
“We still have one open/frozen police officer position,” Cmdr. Watkins said.
And with the economic effects of the pandemic response continuing indefinitely, the final toll it will take on the City’s budget as well the local economy, won’t be known for a long time. And it’s likely to be some time before that final police officer spot will be filled again.
The effects on public safety agencies is one of the talking points the City has used in its efforts to get voters to approve Measure E-20, a 1% local sales tax increase that will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The City Council has all but pledged to use the $2 million a year (in a normal economic year) that E-20 is predicted to bring in to shore up funding for the police and fire departments.