Mayor looks to cut police spending

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

During his first meeting as mayor, Don Holtcamp set his sights on cutting spending at the Concordia Police Department bringing up several issues to the Board of Aldermen.

At the top of Holtcamp's list was the department's policy of hiring six full-time officers. He said the city is obligated to provide a police officer 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To do so requires 168 hours of staffing.

Employing six officers to work 40-hour shifts results in 240 hours of coverage, or a surplus of 72 hours each week.

"That extra man costs a lot of money," Holtcamp said.

Factoring in salaries, benefits, uniform allowances and the cost of a patrol car, Holtcamp put the annual cost of the additional officer at more than $53,000.

Concordia Police Chief Dan Lucas said the department tries to have two officers on duty throughout the day and evening, relying on single coverage in the overnight hours. Doing so, he said, provides greater visibility to the public and increases safety for officers.

Lucas noted that having two officers on duty during the day allows one to go into the local schools for the D.A.R.E. drug education program. In addition, nearly 80 percent of the chief's duties are administrative and keep him from actively patrolling the city's streets during his shift.

There was some question as to how long the policy has been in place, but it was generally agreed that the department has used six officers for at least the last five years. City Administrator Dale Klussman said the change came during his tenure as mayor and was made at the recommendation of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association.

Concordia resident Mel Bockelman, present at Monday's board meeting, said he felt two officers was a waste of money during the day. He noted that the Missouri State Highway Patrol uses single coverage.

"And they deal with an infinitely more dangerous class of people," he said.

Holtcamp agreed with Bockelman's assessment.

"You don't need double coverage," he said. "This is a sleepy little town."

Lucas countered that because of Concordia's location on Interstate 70, it sees the same people passing through that the Highway Patrol deals with. In addition, he said, the state troopers rely on local police and the Lafayette County Sheriff's Department to back them up when needed.

Lucas said because Concordia is relatively isolated in the southeastern corner of the county, there is a delay if its officers call for assistance.

"Our backup is on the left end of the county," he said, noting that state troopers and county officers tend to patrol more in the western part of the county where the majority of their emergency calls are located.

Holtcamp also questioned the department's use of overtime pay and reserve officers. He noted that the budget includes $8,000 to pay for reserve officers and an additional $8,000 of overtime pay for the full-time officers.

Klussman explained that because the department has more than four full-time officers it falls under a Fair Labor Standards Act provision that prohibits the city from using the "171 rule." That rule allows smaller municipalities to count a week as having 171 hours when scheduling emergency personnel in departments with fewer than five full-time employees.

In addition, the act also requires that employees be considered "on the clock" during their meal breaks if those breaks cannot be taken uninterrupted. Because police officers are expected to respond to calls even if they are at lunch or dinner, their breaks are paid time.

Klussman also noted that a larger than normal amount of overtime was paid last because the department was short-staffed and officers worked extra to maintain coverage.

Even at full-staffing levels, all officers will receive some overtime pay because they are required to appear for municipal court as witnesses and to work extra-duty shifts during the fall festival.

Holtcamp's final issue was with the policy of allowing the three officers who live in town to take a patrol car home at the end of their shift. He said he had received complaints from a number of citizens as well as other municipal employees, who feel that the program is either wasteful or unfair.

Aldermen Homer Nierman and Kevin Reinwald both spoke in favor of the take-home program, noting that any extra cost was offset by the increase police visibility in Concordia's neighborhoods.

Lucas noted that when officers take their cars home, they assume a sense of ownership, and they take better care of them. The end result is longer vehicle life and reduced repair expenses. He also pointed out the cars are not for personal use and when an officer is behind the wheel they are on police business.

Alderman Mark Schnakenberg said he wasn't necessarily against the take-home program, but added that he wanted to know more about its costs.

"It's all about budget and security," he said. "We just have to balance them."

In the end, the board chose to send the matter to the Concordia Police Advisory Board with instructions to really dig into the matter and produce a "black and white" assessment of the departments needs for staffing and expenditures.

The advisory board is scheduled to meet on May 19.

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