The Crescent City Council approved plans earlier this week to increase the police department’s staffing by adding two sergeant positions.
The first phase of that plan enables City Manager Eric Wier to hire one new sergeant and to eliminate an existing officer position.
“Ideally, we’d add these sergeants with existing officers. That’s going to take additional resources that the city doesn’t currently have. We’re not flush with cash in the general fund, we’re only $100,000 above that minimum reserve,” Wier told the council Monday night. (Council member Alex Fallman was absent from the meeting.)
Wier said the second phase of hiring a sergeant opens in February, after Officer Gene Votruba retires later this month.
“If the council approves this tonight, we’ll turn right around and start recruitment, so we’ll start it tomorrow,” Wier said.
“It will be advertised for approximately two to three weeks, depending on applications we get, and we will immediately try to fill these sergeant positions.”
Wier’s report to the council put current police staffing at 14 full-time employees: two sergeants, 10 officers and a records specialist. The proposal eventually would provide for four full-time sergeants and reduce the number of officers by two, to eight full-time positions.
Wier said that during the last round of negotiations with the Crescent City Police Officers Association, the organization expressed concerns that its sergeants worked only day shifts and left night shifts unsupervised.
“How it works now,” said Wier, “sergeants are on call, or the chief (is), and answer their phones if there were ever any concerns that would arise. This has worked for several years, although it’s not ideal.
“The police role changes rapidly, and to have that sergeant there on scene, hopefully at least with a radio active in their hand, is a very valuable benefit.”
The city’s plan takes two front-line officer positions and fills those with sergeants. Then, ideally, the city would backfill the officer positions and add a detective position, whose sole focus would be the investigative side of the police department, Wier said.
“If you look at full implementation of this plan all the way out to phase four, it can cost a maximum, if everybody was at their top step with full benefits, of $373,000. We don’t have the resources in place to fully implement that.
“So, what is before the council tonight is to take advantage of the opportunity that we have, which is with three vacancies, and at this point fill one sergeant position,” Wier said.
He said he’d return to the city council for approval of the subsequent hiring phase following Votruba’s retirement.
The staff report puts the cost of hiring two new sergeants, and reducing full-time officers from 10 to eight by backfilling positions, at about $45,000 per year.
The report shows no anticipated impact to the current fiscal-year budget, so city staff are not looking for additional appropriations.
“Due to vacancies in the department at various times this year, the increased cost of two additional sergeant positions compared to officer positions can be covered in the existing budget,” reads the report.
“Going forward, the impact will be up to $45,480 per year, based on current wages and benefits.”
Crescent City Police Chief Richard Griffin said the police officers’ association is not “asking for a whole bunch down the road. We’re asking for a minimum to provide service to the city and also keep our officers safe.
“This first step, of sergeant 24-hour supervision, can do both of that. It’s providing liability coverage for the city and it’s going to help the officers progress down the line, and a couple of them to promote up, too.
“I 100% support this,” said Griffin. “I don’t see a downfall to this, other than costing a little extra money.”
Council member Jason Greenough said the proposed plan appeared to be a common-sense solution for supervisory staff on hand every shift.
“This is an ideal department with all the positions filled. This is something I would support. It covers the city in the event that something does happen. We need that extra supervisory person on,” Greenough said.
Added Mayor Blake Inscore, “I agree that it would provide a greater level of coverage and support to our community.
“(And) I very much like the idea of providing the opportunities for advancement within the organization. I hope that becomes a key retention thing for people, that there’s an obvious place to grow within the organization.”