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Crisis in Pacific: Small police force stretched

Cy Sun - Reporter file photo
Cy Sun
— image credit: Reporter file photo

Pacific residents came to Monday’s meeting of the Pacific City Council expecting to give the council and Mayor Cy Sun an earful about low staffing levels in the police department.

But before people could vent their anger at Sun for his refusal to hire more police officers, he walked out, upset by the council’s decision to strike two ordinances and an appointment to the city’s civil service commission that he had put on the agenda.

Citing Sun’s negligence in clearing the items with it first, the council removed them.

Exit Sun, to catcalls from the audience.

Council members stayed to hear what the people and acting head of police Lt. Edwin Massey had to say about low officer staffing and the potential risk to public safety.

“If we go back to 2010, we had 11 commissioned officers,” Massey told the council. “We started this year with seven commissioned officers. It seems like we’re kind of going in the wrong direction here. The criminals don’t leave the city, they don’t decrease in number, and we’re down to seven officers.”

Today the department has four patrol officers, augmented by a sergeant, a lieutenant and a detective.

And with the potential loss of another officer looming, Massey said – he is handling administrative duties for Chief John Calkins while Calkins is on stress-related medical leave – the City is in crisis.

“We need a fix, I need officers,” Massey said. “And that’s the bottom line. We need to take care of our city, and we can do it with more officers. If I lose another officer, what is the magic number? I have an officer that scored high with another agency. If I lose him, I’m down to six. Another and I’m down to five. What is the magic number where somebody will say we’re going to hire new officers for you?”

Although there is money in the budget to hire two officers, Sun has refused.

“The police department staff that we’ve got now is adequate for the city’s protection,” Sun said in an interview on Wednesday. “They’re saying it’s not enough staff mainly because the chief wants to build up a … I would use the word empire. In the past the police department was always highly staffed. And I promised the voters that I would cut costs without jeopardizing the services required by the City to perform. With that, I’m holding the cost line where it is. They’ve budgeted the money for the police department, but that doesn’t mean that they should spend it.”

Not that he’s against hiring, Sun said, he’s just waiting for information from the police department before he will consider approving the hiring.

“I’m waiting for the police department to give me a report on the shift schedule, the uniform crime report, the closure rates, and the last time the evidence room has been audited,” Sun said. “After it’s complete, if I have to hire, I will.”

At Monday’s meeting Massey told the council that the effects of low staffing are already evident in increased crime and overtime costs.

“We’ve seen property crimes go up,” Massey said. “We’ve seen crimes against persons go up. And there is no real fix for that. We need more officers. The morale is pretty low within the police department because our officers have been working long hours. I’ve been working six days, but some of my officers have been working 10, 12 days without a break on 12-hour shifts.”

Sun refuted the claim that the officers are overworked, however, adding that he did a comparison that found they weren’t working any more overtime than other departments in the City, including administration and public works.

“The overtime that they claim the police officers are working, and that they’re overworked, it’s not true,” Sun said. “It’s not the true picture.”

Massey told the council that overtime hours more than doubled from 2011 to 2012.

“In 2011 with 10 officers the overtime was 687 hours,” Massey said. “In 2012, which we ended with seven officers, it was 1,497 hours.”

Among residents there is genuine concern for their safety.

At the meeting an emotional Katie Garberding read to the council a statement she had meant for Sun.

“It’s my belief that these officers are being forced to work long hours with no days off, that they are stretched tighter than a rubber band,” Garberding said. “They’re stretched to the limits, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re at the point were something or someone is going to snap. I can’t see how a skeleton staff can provide protection and safety to over 6,300 residents, with an average of 7,500 calls for protection or service each year. It should be the mayor’s top priority to have a police force for its citizens.”


 

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