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8-29-2012 -- Letter to Mayors
July 26, 2012
Over the last 15 months, we have worked with our contract city elected officials to explore the ethical and legal principles of law enforcement service, while trying to maintain the effectiveness and efficiency of these services to our contract cities and unincorporated areas of the county. Our existing budget was analyzed in an effort to re-evaluate how the costs could be more equitably borne by the recipients of Sheriff’s Office law enforcement services (i.e., contract cities).
We have spent hundreds of hours in this evaluation with the following objectives in mind:
- Identify legal, ethical, and equitable law enforcement contract services that are reasonable, rational, sound, justifiable, and consistent;
- Provide services to meet the individual needs of each city; and
- Develop consistent, transparent contracts for services among all cities.
The initial evaluation maintained our current level of staffing, which has proven efficient and effective. However, we have recently elected to eliminate five (5) sworn deputy positions: four (4) CRO positions and one (1) investigative position. The intent of these reductions was to lower the overall cost for all contract cities.
Mayors and city officials have expressed the desire to be given the discretion to decide what level of service the city will receive. We are willing to work with you to determine what level of law enforcement service is to be provided, prioritizing the safety and security of city residents and Sheriff’s Office staff.
As the elected Sheriff, I have some concerns that I wish express at this time. I’d like to share some observations and projections.
Currently, we have 80 sworn deputies in the Patrol, Investigations, and Training. In Patrol, specifically, we have 61 deputies of all ranks. These deputies are divided up into four precincts: North Precinct (Plain City, Farr West, Marriott-Slaterville and surrounding county areas); West Precinct (West Haven, Hooper and surrounding county); Washington Terrace Precinct (Washington Terrace City, Uintah City, Uintah Highlands, and several pockets of county); Valley Precinct (Huntsville, Eden, Liberty and all areas east of the mountains in Weber County). These are very diverse areas geographically, politically, and demographically. To manage all law enforcement services effectively, each precinct has a full-time commander assigned who is the liaison between local private and public officials within the precinct and the WCSO. The WCSO handles roughly 2,100 documented calls for these areas each month in a service area of almost 56,000 residents and countless visitors.
One traditional measure of acceptable staffing levels is that of 2 – 2 ½ officers per 1,000 capita. However, WCSO staffing levels are decided on, in part, by time spent on calls (obligated time) and free time (unobligated time) among our patrol deputies. Using obligated time versus unobligated time takes into account a host of different community variables that may fluctuate from one location to another. This gives us a measure of our workload and our ability to respond to sudden or unexpected events. It is generally accepted among effective police managers that while one officer is attending to business (obligated), another is patrolling streets or visiting with citizens but able to immediately respond to the next crucial event (not obligated). As such, a balance of 50% obligated time and 50% unobligated time means that there is enough manpower to address community policing issues and engage in preventative activities to eliminate and discourage crime and other safety problems. Currently, we are operating near that percentage. This suggests that we have achieved a staffing level in patrol that is considered in the industry to be the most practical. Using the per capita method, the WCSO is at about 1.4 officers per thousand. We are currently operating effectively and at a much leaner ratio than national averages.
I’d like to point out some anticipated consequences resulting from additional austerity measures.
- Crime Prevention – We typically see annual increases in calls for service. This is expected to continue as population grows and the public’s demand for more service rises. We anticipate resulting increases in the percentage of patrol time that is obligated, while the proportion of unobligated time decreases. It is during these unobligated periods that we are able to conduct targeted traffic enforcement, conspicuous neighborhood patrols, or conduct follow-up activities meant to reduce crime and resolve pending issues or problems. If there are further decreases in staffing, these ratios are likely to change even more quickly, and we will become less effective at public safety. There is a risk that in some locations, we will see increases in criminal cases.
- Special Events – To keep the costs of these events low, we often flex deputy schedules to make use of unobligated time, thereby keeping overtime to a minimum. As calls increase and staffing decreases, the overtime expenses of these events will more than likely increase as well.
- Backfill – A deputy typically spends 13 - 15% of his time in state mandated in-service training, on sick leave, and/or on vacation. During those times, we use unobligated time to move deputies to backfill critical posts while the incumbent is unavailable. As above, staffing cuts will result in less flex-time to greater overtime costs.
- Contract Services – We currently provide contract services for a number of federal, state and local entities. Deputies often fulfill these shifts on an overtime basis. There is a limit, however, to the number of hours a deputy can work so as to keep him or her properly rested and fit for their primary assignments. Re-evaluation of these contracts may be necessary, which may critically affect public safety in a number of locales.
- Deputy Morale and Safety – We know that fewer deputies and increasing calls results in an increase in response time. This has a direct impact on public safety at a cost of lives and property. The response times of the second and third deputies to arrive will also increase. This latter factor does, in fact, increase the hazard to initial deputies. This effect is felt by the deputies, affecting their decisions in the field and their sense of safety and support, which may adversely affect agency morale and burnout.
I realize that there are certain eventualities. I do, however, want to make sure that as these difficult decisions are made, deference will be given to the other factors that I have just briefly mentioned. Ultimately, the safety and security of the citizens that we are sworn to protect will remain my priority.
I will continue to work with you as a City official to accomplish the objectives set out in this process and recognize that this is a positive step in the right direction.
Sheriff T. Thompson
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