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July 16, 2013 7:58 am

Federal dollars being eyed for new Powell Police Department officer

Written by CJ Baker

Another officer could soon be added to Powell’s Police Department, courtesy of the federal government.

The city is currently hiring for a position that would boost the number of the city’s patrol officers from 11 back up to 12. The department has had 11 or fewer patrol officers since September 2010. That’s when city leaders — as part of budget-saving measures — chose not to replace an officer who left the agency.

However, city leaders have now decided to try bringing the position back with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). The 2013-2014 budget passed by the Powell City Council includes funding for the new position.

The grant provides only temporary and partial help.

The position, with its salary and benefits, is projected to cost the city around $201,670 over the next three years, said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt. The city wants the federal COPS Hiring Program to cover $125,000 — or about 62 percent — of the cost.

The starting pay for a patrol officer is $17.33 an hour.

If approved, the grant funding would be phased out: the city would pay only $15,000 in the officer’s first year but $36,669 in the third year.

Starting with the fourth year, the city would be fully responsible for paying the officer’s salary and benefits.

The basis for a dozen Powell patrol officers comes from a mathematical model developed by Northwestern University that takes in a wide array of data about a city and its crime and spits out a recommended number of officers.

“It’s not like a luxury or an extra person,” City Administrator Zane Logan said of the 12th officer.

At the time the city dropped down to 11 policemen, then-Chief Tim Feathers said the department could handle the changes short-term, but would suffer impacts in the long-term.

What Feathers predicted has happened, Eckerdt said.

“Without that position, we can staff, yes — as long as nobody takes a vacation, nobody gets sick and nobody goes to a (training) school,” Eckerdt said. Without the additional officer, “we lose that flexibility,” he said.

The patrol officers are split into three squads, each supervised by a sergeant. Two squads have four members, but with the odd overall number, one squad has three. It means that when the three-member squad faces a busy night-shift, an officer from the day shift has to stay available.

The cost of overtime pay “has well surpassed what it would have cost to have that officer,” Eckerdt said.

Police records show officers spent about 435 hours of overtime patrolling the city in 2010. Last year, there were 768 hours of extra patrolling.

With a cost of roughly $53 an hour for overtime wages and benefits, it means the city spent around $40,704 for extra patrol time. That’s $17,622 more than the city spent on overtime in 2010.

Logan said beyond the budget efficiency, getting back to the recommended staffing level “makes the scheduling much more efficient, to cover better, and that’s always better for the community.”

Eckerdt does not know the city’s odds for getting the COPS grant, but the department’s already in the process of hiring a new officer. If the funding does not come through, Eckerdt expects normal turnover will give him flexibility to keep the officer and stay at a staff of 11.

If the COPS Hiring Program grant is awarded, there would be less flexibility. Grant guidelines would require Powell to keep 12 officers on staff for at least one year after the federal grant ends. That would mean the new position must be on staff for at least four years.

Logan said there would be options if the city found itself in a budget crunch and stuck with a 12th officer. In a worst case scenario, “we absolutely wouldn’t buy any equipment or new (police) cars,” he said.

It’s a worse scenario when you consider that, according to Logan, the city is already “way behind” on replacing vehicles in the department. This year, for example, the Police Department requested two or three new cars and got one.

Logan expects typical turnover in the department would give the city the option to go back to 11 officers by attrition after the required year is up.

“Any time we have anybody leave, we always look at options. We don’t automatically replace, no matter what the department is,” he said.

In addition to the 11 officers currently in the patrol division, the Police Department also has an investigator, a School Resource Officer, a Community Service Officer and the chief.

The COPS office expects to announce grant recipients by the end of September.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link July 19, 2013 11:36 pm posted by SuperSixOne

    Powell needs another policeman, like we need another aquatic center, another fiber-optic project, another hospital staff recruiter... notice a trend yet ?

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