Letter To The Editor – Show Me The Money

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Most people in Deer Park want a local police force but their biggest concern is cost. I agree. I don’t want to raise taxes or break the bank for a local department. And although many people say there have been studies done on the cost of starting a police force, the city has no record of any studies ever done. And for all the people who have said they have run the numbers, no one has ever shown me any of their numbers.   

Let me begin by saying that I sincerely appreciate our deputies. I’ve never had anything but great interactions with all of them. I also sincerely appreciate the Sheriff. When the Governor wanted to close down churches the Sheriff called me personally and assured me he would defend our constitutional right to worship together; the local deputies assured us of the same thing. So this is nothing personal against any of them. They are all top notch professionals and deserve our highest respect. 

When I first heard about potentially forming our own force I had all the same reservations everyone else does: How are we going to pay for it? What about serious situations? Can’t we just add another deputy? So I began to research costs and speak with those in law enforcement about our needs as a city and the result is that I believe forming a local force is the best way forward. 

What follows is a potential 5 year cost schedule for a local police force. There are always things that could be tweaked or changed – and I suspect the Mayor and Chief would make changes. The purpose here is simply to show it is possible to begin a local force by using real life numbers. I’ll give you a year-by-year overview, then I’ll break down some of the items in the budget itself.

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Year 1: 

We hire a Chief, Sergeant and two other officers. This means the first year we will have double the coverage we currently have for a little less than we currently budget. We also hire experienced officers to save on training costs. Several experienced officers have told me that if we had a force they would apply because they love Deer Park.   

Year 2:  

We add another officer and another fleet SUV. Everyone gets a 3% raise and I’ve taken into account inflation for costs for most items. Because we’re only buying 1 car our savings over our current budget are very noticeable.  

Year 3:  

We add another officer for a total force of 6 officers which gives us 24/7 coverage for Deer Park. Everyone gets a 3% raise and our yearly savings are still substantial.  

Year 4 and 5: 

Our fleet is paid for and our force is 6 strong; everyone gets regular raises and we continue to save compared to what we currently budget. We can also begin planning for future needs and personnel.  

Wages. The salary and benefits package for the Chief and Sergeant are above average for what cities our size pay, and our officers would make the same as Spokane City police officers. I’ve also included 3% yearly raises as well as a line item for overtime.

Vehicles. I spoke with the mayor of Chewelah (who has their own local force) and a brand new fully equipped SUV is around $70k, so I set aside $75k just to be safe. This includes lights, decals, communications, computers, etc. We could purchase used vehicles for more savings but less life. I also believe we need SUVs rather than cruisers for the winter months. The Chief will have his or her own vehicle, while all the rest will be shared fleet vehicles. There are also grants available for purchasing new vehicles – Yakima just bought a whole fleet of brand new vehicles with the help of a federal grant.

Jail. The jail cost is based off our current budget and include yearly cost increases. We can continue to contract with the Spokane County jail unless there comes a point where it makes more financial sense to create our own jail.  

Insurance. Because there are so many factors that determine an insurance rate to a city, I took the basic rate that Chewelah is paying and adjusted it for our city size and then increased it $10k/year more just to be safe.

Office. There are several office spaces at City Hall that could be used for our police department. Because we would be a small department, we really only need offices for the Chief and Sergeant and possibly a conference room for the whole force.  

One variable in this scenario is the possibility of renovating City Hall which is in desperate need of upgrade and repair anyway. If we choose to renovate City Hall we could incorporate additional office space for our police force. This is a factor that is beyond the scope of this article but should be considered in a total financial consideration for the future.  

Misc Costs. This covers uniforms, equipment, evidence storage, and other things we may have potentially overlooked. We don’t want our police department to be proverbially house poor because we forgot something. I also want the future Chief of police to have some flexibility to spend where he or she deems fit. 

Current budget. This is super important: The current budget assumes that we stick with just 2 deputies and their cost only goes up by 3% per year as our contract stipulates. Some people have said adding another deputy would solve our problem. But that would likely be a large financial increase based on what we pay already. For those who suggest adding a deputy we need to ask: how do you plan to pay for that? Raise taxes? Take money from somewhere else in the budget? Why get 1 more deputy when we could have 6 officers total for what we budget now?  

What do we do with the savings? We could set it aside as a fund to pay for new SUVs in the future. We could also consider adding another officer if the need arose or paying for any other unforeseen costs. 

Far from being financially impossible, having our own local police force would save us money in the long run while investing in our own city at the same time. We would have superior coverage and our community would be safer. 

Jason Upchurch

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