Police unsure of job stability

Final decision depends on City Council
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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The failure of Measure K has left employees within the police department unsure whether they will have jobs when the city’s new budget is adopted next June. “Measure K had created an uncertain atmosphere that has continued now that Measure K has failed,” Police Chief Joel Neves said Monday. “The attitude and morale is still anxious and uncertain, and employees don’t know exactly what is going to occur in the department or to them individually.” There is a projected deficit of $2.4 million for the city’s General Fun, which provides funding for police, fire, library and recreation services, according to previous News Messenger reports. Neves said there are currently 30 police officers in Lincoln, which includes four sergeants and 17 officers assigned to patrol. Three police officers and one sergeant received lay-off notices last June, effective for January. One sergeant receiving a pink slip found a job at another agency last month, according to previous News Messenger reports. “In January, the number assigned in patrol could potentially go down to 16,” Neves said. “We would lose the motor officer position, we would lose the corporal position that oversees dispatch and technology needs, and then one patrol officer.” The motor officer and corporal would be put on patrol, according to Neves. “The strategy in identifying those positions is it minimizes the impact to the community because the patrol staffing pretty much stays the same but it will definitely have an impact on the employees,” Neves said. “It will impact patrol to the degree that the officers may have duties assigned involving more time in the department and less time in the field.” More lay-offs could occur in the department since City Manager Jim Estep said last week at the City Council meeting that salaries and benefits “are the only place to cut” in the General Fund “It’s pretty clear to me that the city does have a significant structural deficit, that the city has made reductions in virtually all areas and the only places left is salaries, benefits and personnel,” Neves said. “While the issue of pass or fail is answered, the fact that it has failed has created more questions than answers, like what are the shorter-term and longer-term consequences.” Neves said employees are concerned about their future employment, especially the more recent hires. “Because we staff on seniority, the ones that are lesser seniority are concerned with their jobs,” Neves said. The uncertainty has not impacted the level of service given to the community, though, according to Neves.” Despite the fact that there is this difficult level of uncertainty, people are still out there doing their jobs, responding to calls, giving the best service they can provide, and doing it with the best attitude they can,” Neves said. “Employees here are truly committed to doing a good job and committed to the community. They are looking over their shoulder because they are so uncertain of what will happen to the department and to them personally.” Lincoln Police Officer’s Association President Brett Schneider also said there is uncertainty within the department. “The uncertainty falls under who’s next, how many people are next (to be laid off),” Schneider said. “For those people who are left, will it be a safe environment to work?” Patrol officers' ability to be proactive while on patrol “will have to decrease,” according to Schneider. Officers will have “less time to get involved in their neighborhoods and beats,” Schneider said. Schneider will go to the negotiation table in January, like last year, when he “offered up concessions with the hope of preventing lay-offs.” “We took concessions above and beyond what others did with the hope of saving officers,” Schneider said. “It’s disheartening to watch fellow employees get laid off.” He described fellow officers “as being like family.” “We spend 12 hours a day with other patrol officers. Half of our day is spent with them,” Schneider said. “We rely on them not only to back us up but to keep us out of harms’ way. It’s more like a family than a work environment and to lose a family member is tough.” The number of officers left once the City Council adopts the budget in June is dependent on the level of service the community expects and decisions made by City Council, according to Schneider. “It ultimately comes down to if they (City Council) decide to use reserves,” Schneider said. Schneider also said he is not for hiring another police chief once Neves leaves in January. “I’d hate to see the city spend money on another chief if that means we are going to lose another officer,” Schneider said. “Ideally, we need a chief, but financially, can we afford one? That’s a question only the City Council can answer.”