City may add 12 police officers

The city of Maricopa may add up to 12 police officers after comments made to the chief of police by councilmembers at a budget, operations and finance committee meeting held Friday morning.
The topic of hiring additional officers came up during the committee’s review of the police department budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Chief Kirk Fitch requested seven officers, four to fill vacated positions and three new positions, but said he would like to have more. “We could really use 12 officers to bring us up to mean operating levels, but due to budget constraints we could get by with seven,” Fitch said.
Currently, the city’s police department consists of 40 officers, which amounts to a ratio of less than one officer per 1,000 residents.
The national average is 2.3 and the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that cities the size of Maricopa typically employee 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents.
Councilmember Carl Diedrich said he was skeptical about hiring additional officers based on national statistics if the department was getting the job done with current staff.
However, Fitch said that was not the case.
“We have seen an increase in most types of crime, plus an increase in our response times,” Fitch said.
In 2010, crime increased 19 percent in the city. This coincided with the size of the police force decreasing from 2008 and 2009 levels.
The increase in crime coupled with the decrease in officers led to increases in overtime pay and less attention paid to record keeping.
“Normal residents only see boots on the ground, but a lot of work an officer does is in the back of the office,” said Diedrich. ”That part of the police work is not getting done in Maricopa.”
Fitch agreed that many investigations are behind schedule due to a lack of personnel.
Also, according to Fitch, the limited number of officers has forced the police department to shift to a 12-hour schedule.
“We just don’t have the staff to run a four-day-a-week, 10-hour-a-day schedule,” Fitch said. “To do that we would need 12 additional officers.”
The 12-hour scheduled raised concerns for Councilmember Alan Marchione.
“I know from my experience in law enforcement that after 10 hours your reaction time decreases significantly,” said Marchione. “We need our officers as alert as possible.”
If council approves hiring 12 additional officers, Fitch said it would offset at least 50 percent of the nearly $150,000 the department spends annually on overtime costs.
The hiring of each officer comes with a price tag of nearly $2,000 plus an annual salary around $47,000.
Marchione, Diedrich and Mayor Anthony Smith said they would like further information about the proposed staff increase.
“If we eventually approve these positions I would need to see the police department find some additional savings elsewhere,” Marchione said.
Photo by Steven M. Thomas