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Council takes on police fee

Of the Keizertimes

For the first time since last summer, the Keizer City Council will formally address the possibility of additional police in Keizer.

The council will take up the issue at its work session Monday, June 12. The session begins at 5:45 p.m. at the Keizer Civic Center. Public testimony is welcomed and encouraged.

Keizer currently has 37 police officers, but that average of roughly one-officer-per-1,000-residents is well below national and state averages. Keizer Police Chief John Teague would like to add another five officers to the roles in a variety of different capacities, none are desk jobs.

The total cost of adding those five officers would be somewhere in the range of $500,000 to $600,000 per year. That includes wages, health insurance, retirement payments and payroll taxes for each officer. The reason for the wide range is that the specific salary for each officer would depend on whether a new officer is hired or if they transfer from another agency.

If the city spreads that cost over each residential dwelling and business in the city, it would total about $44 per year, or about 12 cents per day. The city council will still have to determine how to collect the fee, but the cheapest route would be adding a new line item to the existing sewer and water bills.

Infographic by Andrew Jackson

From the start, Teague has urged residents and the Keizer City Council not to equate adding more officers with an immediate drop in crime. Instead, he suggests, think about it in terms of better customer service.

“Instead of a patrol officer turning up at your burglary, a property crime detective would,” Teague said.

The new officers would be spread over several units within the department – one officer each for traffic, the Community Response Unit (CRU) and detectives, and two for night patrols (see related story – KPD NIGHT SHIFT MAKES DO).

While are five officers are needed in their varying capacities, shortages on the night shift have drawn headlines.

At least twice in recent months, the KPD night shift has been caught short-handed. In March, a would-be burglar got trapped in a window while trying to enter a local tobacco store and all of Keizer’s night patrol officers were tied up with an investigation into a menacing incident, involving an armed suspect, down the street.

In April, a lack of officers to create a secure perimeter and evacuate a family that was the victim of a home intruder delayed an arrest by almost an hour.

“At any given hour, one of those officers might be at the jail with a suspect or at the hospital taking statements from a DUI crash,” said Deputy Police Chief Jeff Kuhns.

The addition of one officer to each of the night shifts would alleviate the problem for high visibility crimes like robberies, but it would also have an impact on domestic disturbances, which also occur more frequently in the late night hours and require at least two officers to respond for safety reasons.

On the detective unit, a fifth officer would be tasked primarily with property crime investigations. Property crimes take a backseat to persons crimes, like sexual and child abuse and robberies. Sex and child abuse cases constitute about 60 percent of the cases detectives are working at any given time, said Det. Chris Nelson.

In the Community Response Unit, there are currently two investigators and a supervisor for a unit that once had four investigators. The CRU inhabits a grey area between patrol and detectives, Teague said. Patrol officers respond to calls that can be quickly brought to some resolution, whereas detectives are in it for the long haul. CRU works cases that involve a level of effort somewhere between the two, for example surveilling homes where drug or gang activity is suspected.

“Persistent neighborhood problems are their niche,” Teague said.

The fifth officer would be placed on the traffic team. One of the top requests from residents is additional traffic enforcement. Teague has said traffic isn’t the worst problem the city faces, but the demand for additional enforcement is ever-present.

“Our numbers are low, but the public repeatedly tells us they want more attention put on traffic,” Teague said.