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Police: Calls for service up with number of officers down

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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With nine less police officers patrolling Lincoln streets, calls for service increased in 2011 compared to the previous year. That’s according to statistics provided in the Lincoln Police Department’s 2011 Annual Report, which showed that calls for service increased from 16,728 in 2010 to 17,160 in 2011. There were 30 sworn officers in 2010, compared to 21 in 2011, according to the report. “I think if you look at calls for service, the demand for our department has gone up. From last year to now, we have nine fewer officers,” Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren said Monday. “With the reduced number of staffing, our ability to respond to those needs is diminishing.” The department is currently at 2001 staffing levels, according to Shelgren. Lincoln’s population in 2001 was 13,819, according to city records coordinator Dia Gix. Today’s population is about 42,000, according to previous News Messenger reports. The number of burglaries spiked from 114 in 2010 to 170 in 2011, according to the report, while the number of other part one crimes have remained similar to the previous year. Those part one crimes include burglary, homicide, rape, robbery, assault, larceny, vehicle theft and arson, according to the report. “We have spiked in a few areas, but overall, demand was the same or greater in other areas,” Shelgren said. “I think any time you have a population, your crime rate and activity is consistent with that population.” Shelgren said the increase in burglaries from 2010 to 2011 isn’t unique to Lincoln. “We’ve seen an increase in the region and it’s all the same type of burglaries. A lot of it is crimes of opportunity,” Shelgren said. Neighboring cities Roseville and Rocklin have more police staffing but are also seeing an increase in burglaries, according to Shelgren. “I don’t think we can blame that (increase in burglaries in Lincoln) on a decrease in officers,” Shelgren said. “It’s an indication of the economic times.” The number of arrests in 2011 was 510 compared to 688 in 2010, with 364 misdemeanor and 146 felony arrests in 2011, according to the report. Traffic stops decreased from 4,186 in 2010 to 2,956 in 2011, states the report, and officer-initiated incidents went from 3,262 in 2010 to 2,685 in 2011. Shelgren said the decrease in those numbers comes back to the reduction of nine police officers. “If you take the ones we have, the individual officer’s productivity hasn’t stopped; it’s just there are nine fewer officers,” Shelgren said. “Officers are doing more work but they’re spread out a lot thinner.” The department is focusing on “priority one calls and crimes in progress,” according to Shelgren. “They (officers) continue to initiate activity but they are always cognizant of the fact that they might have to break away,” Shelgren said. “If they make a traffic stop, they might have to break away from an incident with a warning. They know any time they might be called away.” Shelgren said the department “will keep trying to do as much as we can for as long as we can do it.” “I think the officers are doing a fantastic job with what we have to work with,” Shelgren said. “With the staff we have, they are doing an excellent job.” The News Messenger asked Steve Krueger, vice president of the Lincoln Police Officers Association, if it’s more difficult for officers to do their job now that there are fewer officers. “Yes, it’s considerably more difficult to do our jobs with notably fewer sworn officers from 2010 to 2011,” Krueger said. “It’s simple math. Calls for service went up in Lincoln and the number of police officers available to handle these calls went down.” According to Krueger, “balancing optimum community service with officer safety” is a “challenge.” “If we are down to two officers and a sergeant on patrol and one of us makes an arrest and goes to the jail in Auburn, that’s two cops left on the street,” Krueger said. “It can mean noticeably longer wait times for non-emergency calls as well as greater safety risks for the officers available to handle violent or emergency calls for service.” Shelgren said there are currently two police officers and a community services officer who have layoff notices. There is also one firefighter with a layoff notice, according to Interim Fire Chief Mike Davis. “We had one fire captain and two firefighters with layoff notices,” Davis said. “Recently, the captain and one of the firefighters with layoff notices left to take positions with other agencies.” Those layoff notices were postponed in December until the end of February so City Council can give city staff direction on what to do with the savings from the departure of six public-safety employees since this fiscal year’s budget was passed in June, according to previous News Messenger reports. What to do with those savings will be discussed during the city’s mid-year budget review, according to previous News Messenger reports. The mid-year budget review will occur during the Feb. 14 City Council meeting, according to Lincoln’s public information officer Jill Thompson. Mid-year budget adjustments will be brought to the council for approval, said Lincoln Assistant City Manager Anna Jatczak during Monday’s schools committee meeting (see page A9 for related story). “We have the outstanding issue of layoffs. We will run scenarios on if we do go forward with the layoffs or if the council will delay them to the 2012-2013 budget,” Jatczak said. “It will be a delay.” Police, fire chiefs say response times under seven-minute mark Lincoln’s fire and police department chiefs gave an update on their operations during Monday’s public safety committee. Interim Fire Chief Mike Davis said that the fire department’s response times are “running under the seven-minute mark.” “Many times, there is reduced staff so we have to send two engines to one call,” Davis said. “We can handle one call with one engine. The significant impact is so many times calls come on top of each other.” Reduced staff comes as a result of personnel out sick or on vacation, according to Davis, so sometimes only one engine company covers the city. “One engine in the city happens at least a couple times a month,” Davis said. “Normally in the fire department, we would backfill with overtime. Part of our budget cuts is we don’t have overtime.” City Manager Jim Estep said the decision to limit overtime was made “rather than laying off additional staff.” “We’ll look at that for next year, how we get a little overtime,” Estep said. Police Chief Paul Shelgren said response times for priority one calls are also “keeping under the seven-minute mark.” “We are focusing on crimes against person and any active property crimes with viable leads,” Shelgren said. After March 1, when the two remaining officers with layoff notices are slated to leave, Shelgren said the weekend night shift will have one sergeant and three officers, with one sergeant and two officers for the rest of the shifts. “On March 1, we are beyond critical mass,” Shelgren said. “We have to look at retaining personnel.” Estep said a “big unknown is patrol officers.” “If they continue to go, at some point, we have to have a discussion (about) is there a minimum level and how do we proactively prepare for that,” Estep said. “So if we get to that level, we’re not in a mad scramble to backfill that.”