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The cost of keeping police officers

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Q. As far as police officers leaving the department, are we close to a crisis situation? What does fewer officers mean to the officers that remain and the residents of Steamboat Springs?

A. I would not call it a crisis but I consider the loss of officers as well as the lack of qualified applicants to be very serious.

As for the officers that remain they must work long hours of overtime to ensure that shifts are covered and all calls for police service are answered. In terms of the effect on residents, shortages of police personnel can equate to longer response times and on some of the insignificant types of calls, no response at all.

However, the officers that are still here are working their tails off to handle every call assigned.

Prolonged shortages can result in morale problems as well as issues with sleep derivation, especially with those working nights.

Q. What are the top priorities of the police department at this time?

A. Pay, attracting qualified applicants, reducing turnover.

Q. Do you think the need for a police presence is growing in Steamboat Springs? Why or why not?

A. Yes. The need for an increased police presence has been occurring since the late '80s. Just look at what has been happening in the city. The year-round population is approximately 10,000. Add in 1 million skier days plus our summer visitors and the result is a city workforce that has tripled since I have been here. The exception being the police department. In 1980, when I arrived, there were 16 sworn officers. Since then we have added eight sworn police positions, a 50-percent increase. (1 sergeant, 2 investigators, 1 school resource officer and 4 patrol positions) Three of the four patrol positions were approved by City Council for 1997. We have yet to fill those three positions.

Q. The department is considering hiring non-certified police officers. How does this address the hiring and retention of officers?

A. It is my opinion hiring non certified officers helps with attracting applicants by virtue of providing all the training necessary, for the job, at no expense to the applicant.

I believe the effect on retention will be limited. By this I mean that if we become fully staffed morale should improve as a result of the reduction of overtime and the various shifts realizing some degree of normalcy; hopefully resulting in improved retention.

Q. If the city cannot provide pay raises for officers, how else could it mitigate the current situation within the police department?

A. Improving the benefits package would help. However, pay remains a primary concern with officers. Steamboat is an expensive place to live.

We must provide a compensation package that is competitive with the agencies that are hiring our experienced officers away. I am encouraged by the work being done by the city manager, Human Resources Department, and the Finance Department to find a solution.

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