Yelm Discusses Adding Police Officers

By Steven Wyble swyble@yelmonline.com
Posted 2/11/16

An effort by one of the Yelm City Council’s newest councilors to increase the size of the city’s police force didn’t gain much traction at a study session late last month.

Newly-elected …

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Yelm Discusses Adding Police Officers

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An effort by one of the Yelm City Council’s newest councilors to increase the size of the city’s police force didn’t gain much traction at a study session late last month.

Newly-elected councilor Joe DePinto said in an interview he asked at the Jan. 23 study session what it would take to use $200,000 from the city’s cash reserves to hire two new police officers.

Some of the other councilors present didn’t seem receptive to the idea, with one questioning the need for more officers, he said.

“I pointed out the increase in car prowlers, violent crimes, burglaries ... and they just denied it,” he said. “They said that’s not happening ... (and) just denied these crimes are happening.”

Mayor Ron Harding said in an interview that nobody disagrees the city should hire more officers when it can. The question is how to do so sustainably.

It’s problematic to take money out of the city’s reserves, because that money is needed for cashflow purposes, he said. For example, one of the city’s main revenue sources is property taxes, which come in two times a year. The city needs to have cash on hand to pay expenses before that revenue is available, he said.

While the city has looked into funding mechanisms for new officers in the past, including applying for grants, the most practical way to create a sustainable revenue stream to hire more officers is by implementing a public safety tax, Harding said.

The city could put a tax proposal on the ballot itself, or participate in a countywide tax proposal, he said. A countywide tax would probably provide more revenue, he said.

The county as a whole has been interested in asking voters to implement such a tax because the cost of providing public safety services increases every year.

DePinto said he sees asking residents to vote on a tax as a last resort, but said he would support bringing the issue to voters if necessary.



Hiring two new officers will only get the city up to speed, DePinto said, adding he feels the city should have been able to set aside money over the years to hire new officers.

“In 2009, we lost two officers and we never replaced them,” he said. “So within that six years, they weren’t able to find the money. Well, they had the money, they just didn’t budget it in. I’m curious to know exactly where that money went to, for those two officers. But I had asked them, within those six years, you’re telling me you couldn’t have budgeted for two officers, that $200,000? And they said no. And I just find that hard to believe. I mean, I don’t want to call anyone incompetent, but within six years, if you can’t find that kind of money, that needs to be a priority.”

DePinto said the police department is spread thin. When an officer was recently in a shooting, they were required to be put on administrative leave, leaving seven patrolling officers, at the time he said.

“We can’t be spread this thin,” he said.

Harding agrees that is a problem, stating the department isn’t understaffed under normal circumstances, but when vacations or sick leave come into play, it makes it difficult to schedule shifts. But there is no standard formula for determining how many officers a police department needs on any given shift, he said.

DePinto said compared to cities of similar size, it’s clear Yelm officers respond to more calls with fewer officers than other police departments.

Harding said in a previous story that many of those calls are officer-initiated, meaning officers taking the initiative to stop and talk to people or respond to suspicious circumstances, rather than responding to dispatched calls.

The question of whether Yelm’s police force is adequately staffed came up in the last general election cycle. Newly-elected councilors DePinto, Molly Carmody and Tad Stillwell stressed the need for more officers throughout their campaigns.

 

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