Oak Creek Crime and financial statistics show that the Oak Creek Police Department is busier than ever, while working on a smaller budget.
As of June 10, Oak Creek police had documented 605 cases they worked on this year. Fifteen of those were felonies and 47 misdemeanors. At that pace, the officers will surpass the 1,052 cases they worked on in 1999.
Oak Creek Police Chief Dan Kelliher said there are some crimes that are happening more now than before. For example, he said, so far this year 24 crimes involving theft or vandalism have been documented, compared to 68 for all of last year and 31 for 1998.
"The same types of crime that are in big cities can happen in a small town," Kelliher said.
Many residents believe that they don't have to lock their doors in Oak Creek, which could be part of the reason for the increase in property crimes, the chief said.
Crimes against people also have increased in the last three years. Police officers have been called 43 times in 2000 to deal with those types of cases. Last year they were called 82 times and in 1998 they were called 58 times.
"Dog at large" calls also have increased, with 24 already this year, compared to 36 in 1999 and 10 in 1998.
However, it is difficult to judge if all the numbers accurately portray an increase in crime, Kelliher said. Last year, a computer filing system was installed that automatically gives a case number as soon as a police officer is called to service.
"Two or three years ago some actions may have not gotten a case number," Kelliher said. "Now, no matter what you do, it creates a case number."
There were 168 cases documented in 1998 before the new computer system was installed. That's one-tenth the number documented in 1999.
A large part of the difference may be the traffic stops that didn't result in a citation or a written warning.
"We didn't always report every traffic stop we made," Kelliher said.
Another reason for an increase is the police officers themselves, Kelliher said.
"We're working hard," the chief said. "We have good officers that like to go out and find stuff."
In addition to an aggressive staff, the whole office is "much more efficient" since Kelliher has taken the reins, Police Commissioner Sonja Norris said.
"We are more aware of situations in the community," she said. "Efficiency has really paid off."
The three-officer police department's budget this year is $181,000, the lowest it's been in at least three years. Last year it was $189,000 and in 1998 it was $194,500.
Hayden, which is about twice the size of Oak Creek, set its police department's budget for this year at $302,920, Hayden Police Chief Jody Lenahan said. In 1999, his crew ran 1,828 calls with four full-time officers, three volunteers and six vehicles.
Though Oak Creek's department is running fine, it could use more money.
"I cut $14,000 that I could really use right now," he added. "We need a new vehicle."
The department has three Chevy Blazers. That ensures that each of the three police officers has a vehicle if he is called in for backup. If a fourth officer is hired, which Kelliher and the town are trying to do, he or she will need another vehicle.
"We've got to respond directly from our house to back somebody up," he said. "I'm not going to come to a call with my personal vehicle."
Though finding a fourth officer and another vehicle is a concern, Kelliher is now preoccupied with replacing officer Todd Oparowski. He is resigning from his position at the end of the month because of personal reasons and because he feels he isn't properly trained for the job, he stated in a letter to the town.
Kelliher expects to be short-staffed for a couple months, but the town has three applicants that the chief feels confident about.
The lack of qualified staff is going to put a strain on scheduling and the amount of hours worked, which Kelliher said is the biggest challenge of the job.
Each month the officers usually have a significant amount of overtime, whether it's paid or not, he said.
"Someone is always on call, 24 hours a day," he said.
The officers work 12-hour shifts, four hours of which are on call. For example, the day shift is from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the officer on call from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. when he reports for work.
"Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," Kelliher said. "People do get burned out for the amount of hours put in." Oak Creek paid officers for 104 hours of overtime between April 15 and May 15.
If the two new officers can be hired, Kelliher hopes to relieve some of the workload. That would be just in time because the caseloads go up in the summer, he said.
To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org