With the city of Vallejo on the brink of bankruptcy, 20 police and fire employees in the past three days have submitted their retirement papers and more are expected to follow, officials reported.

The sudden exodus of public safety employees has officials worried about how well the departments will be able to serve the city.

Seven people have announced their retirement from the Vallejo Police Department, while the Vallejo Fire Department is losing 13.

"We had almost lost 17 positions in the last two years, and we have 13 on top of it now. Obviously, it makes a tremendous challenge to continue to provide services," Interim Fire Chief Russ Sherman said.

This week's fire department retirements include one deputy chief, an assistant chief, five captains, five engineers, and a firefighter, Sherman said.

Due to the city's hiring freeze, Sherman said the fire department would need permission from the city before it can hire people to fill the positions.

Vallejo police Chief Bob Nichelini said that as of Friday, seven officers had announced their retirements, including two lieutenants, one sergeant and four officers. More departures are expected.

"I have mixed emotions about the retirements," Nichelini said. "If people didn't retire, we would end up having to lay off officers."

Nichelini estimated the department will need to eliminate 11 positions, but said numbers are changing on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

Nichelini said he expects to lose some officers to other Bay Area agencies, and the Oakland Police Department has already called and offered immediate positions to Vallejo officers.

Vallejo is facing an immediate $10 million cash shortfall and is expected to be unable to pay its bills by the end of April. A draft plan presented Wednesday calls for the elimination of 30 city staff positions.

Police officials are working on numerous ideas on how to function with less funding, and plans will be discussed at the Vallejo City Council meeting on Feb. 26.

"There are a wide range of contingency plans that we are working on because there are a wide range of potential ways this could play out," police spokesman Sgt. Vic Massenkoff said.

At Wednesday's budget study session, Sherman said the draft emergency financial plan would result in impacts to service and necessary training of personnel.

Lack of training could result in workplace injuries, and workers' compensation complaints, he said.

Nichelini said with expected staff reductions, the police department will be unable to provide the same level of public service.

"The department really just can't be full-service anymore," Nichelini said.

With the police department's drastic budget cuts, community and proactive police work most likely will fall to the wayside in most areas, he said.

Nichelini said that after staffing field positions 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and staffing legally mandated positions, only 33 officers are available to do all the other police duties.

This includes investigation, narcotics enforcement, crime suppression, property and evidence control, community services and youth services.

Nichelini said at Wednesday's budget study session that the police department has lost so many dispatchers, it can barely do more than handle

9-1-1 calls.

Non-emergency calls may need to go to voice mail, and dispatchers may be unable to respond to them, he added.

At the study session, Nichelini explained a proposed plan to keep proactive police work in North Vallejo, an area that requires a high level of police attention.

While the northern area represents only 10 percent of the city, about 25 percent of all calls come from that area, Nichelini said.

The proposal would use some of the redevelopment money allocated to the Flosden neighborhood to fund policing in the area.

"The Flosden redevelopment area has a lot of cash available and there is a question on what the cash can be used for," Nichelini said.

The redevelopment money could possibly be used for crime prevention in that area, Nichelini said. 

A legal brief drafted in December states that while redevelopment tax increment funds may not be used for ordinary and usual police or fire services, they may be used for increased or supplemental public safety programs.

At Wednesday's meeting, some asked whether there could be a guarantee that the police activity funded by redevelopment money would be confined to the Flosden area.

Nichelini said that such a guarantee would be impossible since officers respond to all areas when further assistance is needed, and don't remain solely in their assigned beats.

"There will never be a time when people are always going to stay in one area of the city," Nichelini said.

Nichelini said a similar plan was used in Oakland several years ago. In that plan, redevelopment money was used to fund foot-patrol officers in areas where more police presence was necessary.

E-mail Andrea Wolf at awolf@thnewsnet.com.