LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk
Police department numbers likely to grow
After two days of budget hearings, it appears that the folks who protect and serve are pretty well protected in the city’s 2010 budget deliberations.
City commissioners were told that the 2010 budget includes expenses for new police officers, and none of the commissioners balked at the idea.
The city actually is looking for recruits to fill six new positions in the department currently. When those six positions are filled, the department will be up to 142 sworn officers, which is the level that Police Chief Ron Olin considers fully staffed.
That would be a significant achievement because Olin said over the last 20 years the department has only been at a fully staffed level for a handful of days.
The numbers also represent a turnaround. Not long ago, the police department was down 13 officer positions. But the previous city commission made it a priority to keep hiring police officers even during tight budget times.
“We have not put a hiring chill or freeze on the Police Department, and I think that has been appropriate,” City Manager David Corliss said.
The numbers could grow even more. This City Commission already has given the department approval to apply for federal stimulus money that would allow the department to hire four more police officers, in addition to the six that are already being sought.
The federal money would cover 100 percent of the salary and fringe benefit costs of the new officers for three years. But the grant also would obligate the city to maintain that level of police staffing for at least a year after the grant expires. The four new officers would add about $230,000 in expenses to the city’s budget.
Even with the potential of 10 new officers, Olin still believes the city may be about eight to 12 officers short of what national standards suggest for a city of Lawrence’s size. But Olin said he does believe citizens will notice improved service levels with the new officers.
He said the larger numbers should give police officers more time to interact with the public, rather than going from one 911 call to another.
“When you are going only from 911 call to 911 call, you don’t see the softer side of policing,” Olin said.
In response to a question by Commissioner Aron Cromwell, Olin also said he thought the public would notice a difference in downtown Lawrence.
“I think we saw a direct impact on people’s perception of safety in downtown with the absence of those 13 police officers for an extended period,” Olin said.
• Commissioners also were told that the police department likely won’t suffer major problems from the much reported shortage of ammunition.
As the national media has reported lately, the price of ammunition has increased significantly. But thus far in 2009, the Lawrence Police Department is on track to spend less in ammunition than it did in 2008.
No, the department hasn’t adopted a Barney Fife policy — carry only one bullet in your pocket. Instead, Olin said the department saw the shortage coming and took action.
“When the news media talks about people who have been stockpiling, that would be us,” Olin said.