Staffing of Lincoln Police Department discussed
A moment of silence Tuesday night at the start of the Lincoln City Council meeting, for a police officer killed July 28 in San Diego, sparked a heated discussion about under-staffing at the Lincoln Police Department.
Lincoln City Councilman Peter Gilbert, for the second time in successive council meetings, asked for the moment of silence for a slain police officer. San Diego Police officer Jonathan Guzman was killed July 28.
The request sparked a volatile reaction from Mayor Spencer Short regarding the shortage of officers in the Lincoln Police Department and a decision made during June budget hearings to hire more police.
“The budget was approved some meetings ago,” Short said. “It’s important; we need to get more peace officers on the street.”
On June 28, the five councilmen unanimously approved the hiring of a police lieutenant and approved the hiring of two additional police officers on a 3-2 vote, with Councilmen Gabriel Hydrick and Paul Joiner voting no. Hydrick and Joiner, at the June 28 meeting, both said they support the idea of hiring more officers but that the city could not afford it.
Short brought up the subject of police-staffing again near the end of Tuesday’s meeting during Council Initiated Business and said he would like the council to consider filling the positions without delay.
“I don’t want to have a moment of silence for this community,” Short said. “I would like to move forward with the hires. This is a serious concern for the community.”
“I’m OK with delaying the lieutenant,” Short added. “I’m concerned with the officers on the street.”
Gilbert said he was concerned with the city moving forward with hiring new officers before a new police chief is hired. Rex Marks resigned as the Lincoln police chief July 1 and interim Police Chief Tim Harrigan was sworn in Aug. 4.
“To hire officers and a lieutenant without a chief on board bothers me,” Gilbert said. “Hire the manager before you hire the people. I’d rather wait a few months.”
Short said it made sense to him to let the new police chief have the opportunity to shape the department’s leadership by hiring a lieutenant.
Councilman Stan Nader encouraged city staff to begin the recruiting process for new officers “so that at six months, two new officers are ready to come on board.”
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Nader said. “We approved a budget that, at six months, two new officers would come on board.”
Lincoln city attorney Leslie Walker asked the council to stop the discussion and schedule the subject for the next regular meeting, Aug. 23.
During the June 28 budget hearing, Gilbert seemed to be the decisive vote in approving the hiring of two additional police officers. Gilbert, after a discussion of the police officer hiring timeline, suggested the council approve funding the salaries for a part of the year.
“We’ve been disciplined and have said no to a lot of important things during my time on the council,” Gilbert said, June 28. “I think I’ve heard enough information to cautiously open up our pocketbook. We won’t incur much of an expense until later in the year.”
And, at the June 28 meeting, Steve Ambrose, city of Lincoln director of support services, said since the hiring process of new officers could take six to nine months, the positions would not be filled on July 1. He said the council seemed to approve funding the salaries for new police officers for a portion of the fiscal year.
According to a budget report by Ambrose, the cost of two additional police officers will be $251,354 per year.
“New officers won’t start for six to nine months,” Gilbert said June 28. “If we hire someone in the ninth month, we only pay them for months 10, 11 and 12.”