Local police departments barely hold the line on officer cuts as new budgets loom - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

Local police departments barely hold the line on officer cuts as new budgets loom

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Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 1:13 pm, Tue Dec 20, 2011.

With a new fiscal year looming July 1, at least one police department in the East Valley is preparing to deal with cuts in personnel, while others hope to “hold the line” to keep cities safe.

Police staffing levels are dropping to what they were nearly a decade ago throughout the East Valley, but cities are doing what they can to keep criminal activity from spiking out of control.

 

Phoenix

The Phoenix Police Department has had a hiring freeze for the past two years and plans to extend that hiring freeze until 2014.

Mark Spencer, president of Phoenix Law Enforcement Association says PLEA has recorded losing 20 officers in the past nine months due to retirement. That does not include terminations or resignations. PLEA also only represents first responders and patrol officers so sergeants, lieutenants and chiefs are not included in their number. The department has not seen any layoffs.

“Police management has made it a commitment to keep first responders, our front line men and women, fully staffed,” said Spencer. “The way you get that done is you rob Peter to pay Paul. Peter in this situation is our investigations bureau. It’s important to respond to calls but it’s also important to investigate crimes and the investigation bureau is thin and getting thinner.”

Spencer said Phoenix has 28 detectives to investigate crimes against children. The department receives over 400 calls a year. Spencer said the average crimes against children detective works on 120 to 130 cases per year.

“This shortage in staffing has a direct impact on victims and their families,” said Spencer. “They’re getting overworked. This is just one specific example of an investigative detail where we are severely short-staffed. You don’t really see it in patrol staff but you see it in services to victims.”

Spencer said it can take almost two years after hiring until an officer is fully functional. If the hiring freeze continues Spencer worries that there could be a big problem when the city does begin hiring because officers will not be ready for patrol.

The Ahwatukee Foothills substation of the South Mountain Precinct has a maximum of six officers on duty per shift. They can have as few as three if officers call in sick.

Cmdr. Chris Crockett of the South Mountain Precinct has told the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee that he would like to have more officers patrol such a large area but they do not have enough officers to allow it.

Seventy percent of the city’s 2011-2012 budget is dedicated to police, fire, municipal court, city prosecutor, and public defender.

 

Chandler

The Chandler Police Department is the only police agency in the East Valley that will experience pay raises for the second straight year — up to 5 percent, following a memorandum of understanding between the City Council and the Chandler Law Enforcement Association that was approved on June 9.

Chandler also plans to keep what it now has in the way of police officers and administrative staffing into the 2011-12 fiscal year, with an annual budget to $78.4 million.

Last year, Chandler experienced minimal cuts that included its DARE drug prevention program, which was eliminated at the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year. The officers in that program were able to transfer into other departments.

Officers also were awarded merit raises last year.

This year, the department’s public information office will reduce its staff from three to two, with an officer also being transferred to fill a vacant position.

Chandler has 318 sworn officers and is in the process of hiring three entry-level officers, according to information from the city. The beginning salary of a Chandler police officer is $51,438, with the top officer pay reaching $73,070.

 

Tempe

Earlier this year, when city leaders were putting together a budget where all departments had to identify 2 percent in “efficiency” cuts over the next two years to avoid further layoffs, the Tempe Police Department turned to its jail and speed photo enforcement program. It also is eyeing grant funds to help with special programs or operations.

The cuts in operational aspects of the police department, which city deputy financial services managers Cecilia Robles and Tom Mikesell say should save $800,000, will be done without eliminating any personnel, as the department will not be filling positions.

“This is a strategic initiative,” Robles said. “We’re just looking at every department and asking tough questions by asking whether anything can be done different. We hope to re-engineer some of our business practices.”

Last year, the city made deep cuts when it eliminated 55 non-sworn or civilian positions in the police department to save $75 million. Most of the personnel were able to transfer to other city departments; the cuts ultimately resulted in seven layoffs.

The police department, which now is fully staffed with 341 sworn officers, plans to go forward with an annual budget of $66.3 million and weather the continuing economic storm by generating $8 million to $10 million from a four-year sales tax increase that was passed by voters in the May 2010 elections.

In hopes of saving money, Tempe will reconfigure city jail operations to save $100,000 by adding weekend city court hours to process criminal cases (so the jail will not shoulder the cost of housing inmates over the weekend if they are booked into the jail on Fridays).

Tempe also plans to save about $600,000 in costs it would have paid Redflex Traffic Systems. The Phoenix-based vendor oversees the city’s speed photo enforcement program. The city pays Redflex for each citation issued, but with the number of speeding citations down, the city will see savings, Robles said.

 

Mesa

The state’s third largest city is proposing a $141 million annual budget for the police department, with at least a $2.1 million cut from a year ago. The cost-reduction plans eliminate 19 full-time civilian positions, according to Candace Cannistraro, acting budget director for Mesa.

On top of health-care costs increasing for city workers, Mesa police now are entering their fourth year without a pay raise — and with a 2 percent pay cut that went into effect in January 2009.

The number of sworn officers in Mesa is about 769, down 66 from two years ago.

After experiencing double-digit cuts into the millions the last two years, further cuts into the low millions have concerned the executive board of the Mesa Police Association, which represents about 730 sworn officers and issued this statement:

“Over the last two years, Mesa’s police department has been cut by approximately $25 million dollars. Frontline officers were hopeful last year when city officials stated that our great city was at the end of the road with budget cuts to in turn find Mesa considering another $3 to $4 million dollar hit to our department in 2012. Mesa’s local and state elected delegates have heard from their constituents that public safety is a priority, however, the city spends the lowest amount per person for our services. How is this acceptable?”

Mesa police have worked to maintain core services as they’ve lost staff, including more than 130 non-sworn employees, Sgt. Ed Wessing said. Police have tried to streamline the department to become more efficient and also plan to let the public file some types of crimes online. That would allow people to report crime without having to wait for an officer to be available to take a report on a low-level crime, Wessing said.

“We surely would like to bolster the total number of officers that we have available, but we just don’t have that luxury,” Wessing said.

The MPA statement also said, “Financial challenges compound our ability to provide adequate protection. Officers feel the police department has become more reactive. Many Part II crimes like identity theft continue to rise and our detectives have a huge workload. When Mesa has a great insufficient number of officers, police have to realistically assess what calls we will and will not respond to. Police experience many angry Mesa citizens because they had to wait for hours for an officer to respond. The simple truth is we do not have enough boots on the ground. The current police department budget is cut so thinly, further cuts mean less people doing the job.”

 

Gilbert

Gilbert’s Police Department is looking to bring its level of sworn officers back up to its “normal” level of 226 while avoiding any cuts to its sworn personnel.

Although officers have not had a raise in three years, the department will move forward with a no-growth budget while continuing to place a priority on keeping officers on the streets.

The Gilbert Police Department will be operating on a $34.2 million budget this fiscal year, $1 million less than it did a year ago, eliminating purchases of equipment such as new police cruisers.

Gilbert has 206 sworn officers working, but plans to bring 18 new officers on board within the next year: Six in patrol, five school resource officers, three in the traffic division and four in investigations. Those positions will not be an addition, but will replace officers who have retired or moved on to other jobs. Of those new officers, 10 have been hired and are going through training. They will earn a beginning pay of $24.30 an hour or a starting salary of $50,544 a year, according to Sgt. Bill Balafas, a Gilbert police spokesman.

 

Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

Ahwatukee Foothills writer Allison Hurtado and Tribune writer Garin Groff contributed to this report.

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