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Pacific's new crisis: Shortage of police protection
Trouble keeps finding the City of Pacific.
Just days after acquiring a last-minute, new insurance policy and averting a possible shutdown of City services, the embattled City faces another crisis.
Staffing levels in the City’s police department have reached a critical level, according to Public Safety Director and Police Chief John Calkins.
“We are so shorthanded, it’s pathetic. We’re running on overtime,” Calkins said. “It won’t be long before I’m not able to fill a shift, and there won’t be anyone on patrol for a 12-hour shift. Now, it’s a matter of safety for the citizens. If we don’t man the streets, it’s going to be chaos.”
Despite the pressing need for more officers on the street and funding available in the City’s 2013 budget to fill two vacancies, Calkins said controversial Mayor Cy Sun won’t sign off on hiring new officers.
The department has four patrol officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant on payroll. The force also employs Calkins, an evidence clerk and a specialist to handle administrative duties, as well as a detective to handle felony investigations.
Calkins said that is way below the level needed to effectively police the city of 6,737.
“We’re not providing the service that we should,” Calkins said. “We just cannot run these guys into the ground on overtime. Of course, it’s a waste of money, too. Our overtime budget is skyrocketing. Very seldom are they on the street. We don’t do any traffic anymore. There is no proactive policing, it’s all reactive. Our detective is backlogged 40 cases right now. He’s asking for help, and we don’t have anyone to help him.”
In November, Calkins said, he was prepared to offer a job to an officer from Alaska.
“We started the process and he passed a polygraph, psychological and physical exam and a background investigation,” Calkins said.
The interested officer even had an interview with Sun on Nov. 28.
Thinking Sun’s approval of the new hire was a sure thing, Calkins wrote a letter informing the potential hire that his start date would be Dec. 1.
On Nov. 30, however, Calkins said he was informed by Sun that “the hiring freeze for the police department is still effective.”
“So we’re into this guy for about $2,000 at this point,” Calkins said. “But out of respect for the guy, I had to tell him that I had no control over this and that the mayor just refused to sign off on it.”
“I’ve told (Sun) point blank, and it’s on record, that if something bad happens, it’s going to be on his head,” Calkins said. “This is South King County, it’s not Black Diamond or Eatonville. It’s busy here, and we have a lot of crime. It’s no different than Auburn or Renton.”
Councilmember Tren Walker said he and the council also have urged Sun to approve the hiring of new officers, but to no avail.
“We actually asked for an update to find what the status was because we had funded six officers for 2013,” Walker said.
According to Walker, Sun replied it would take some time to finish the process of hiring new officers.
On the advice of City attorney Ken Luce, Walker said, the council voted unanimously to urge Sun to hire for the vacant funded positions. However, the resolution has no teeth, Walker said.
“We can’t force him to do it. It’s an executive right to delay that. We budget for the positions, but it’s up to him to hire for them.”
Walker said he was also concerned about the low staffing level.
“Less officers means more overtime,” Walker said. “Officers call in sick. They can’t take vacations because there is no coverage. It’s an officer safety thing also. They’re having to work a lot of overtime, I know I don’t like to work 50-60 hours a week. It’s hard knowing there is really very little we can do.”
“It’s so serious that the safety of the citizens is at risk,” Calkins said. “It’s monumental.”
BY THE NUMBERS
The City of Pacific’s 2013 budget allots $2,280,336 for public safety, about 56 percent of the city’s general fund.
The budget, which was approved by the city council, slates funding for six patrol officers, a sergeant, a lieutenant, a detective, an evidence technician, a police specialist and the public safety director/chief of police.
POLICE STAFFING AT SIMILAR-SIZED CITIES IN WASHINGTON
• Orting: population 6,823, 2.73 square miles, Pierce County – Two sergeants, six patrol officers;
• Fircrest: population 6,573, 1.58 square miles, Pierce County – one sergeant, eight patrol officers.
• Duvall: population 6,828, 2.47 square miles, King County – one commander, four sergeants, nine patrol officers;
• Pacific: population 6,737, 2.42 square miles, King and Pierce counties – one lieutenant, one sergeant, four patrol officers.