By JOHN McCALLUM
A $56,000 budget adjustment implemented last month to fund a new patrol officer for the Cheney Police Department may end up negatively impacting the department's ability to provide ongoing training for its officers.
City officials used $16,000 in department money scraped from five accounts in order to help fund Police Chief Jeff Sale's request to hire one new officer in time to fill a training academy slot. That officer, Shawn Hobbs, joined the department on March 1, but will spend six months at the academy before beginning patrol duties.
To fund the position, the city shifted $7,000 from the care and custody of prisoners account, $5,000 out of overtime, $2,000 from repair and maintenance, and $1,000 from both the dispatch account and the patrol division account.
The money amounts to all of patrol's training travel expenses, and one-third of communication's travel expenses, potentially impacting the department's “ability to provide mandated training for both divisions,” according to the department's February Monthly Accountability Review report.
Police Department Cmdr. Rick Campbell said the department is required by contract to set aside at least 40 hours of ongoing training per officer each year. Whether the department will be able to honor this, or if so, how it will be paid for, is unclear at the moment.
“I don't know if it's going to keep it from happening, but the potential is certainly there,” Campbell said. “Either we look around (for funding) or go back to the council for more.”
The loss in overtime funds has already put stress on an account that yearly runs over budget. According to the report, the department has $5,739 in overtime so far this year, roughly 30.4 percent of the budgeted amount with just 16.7 percent of the year elapsed.
The city also shifted money from other accounts to pay for the new patrol position –$15,000 from planning, $12,000 from community development, $9,100 from the City Council's legislative budget, and $3,900 from a communications contract between the Police Department and Spokane County that had actually been paid for in its entirety in the 2006 budget.
February's report also noted that criminal activity increased over 13 percent last month, compared to January totals, and 5.49 percent overall when compared to this time last year. Thefts amounted for almost half of the 51 reportable offenses in February – 25 – compared to just 16 in January.
Of the 96 reportable incidents in 2007, up five from this time in 2006, 41 have been thefts. Campbell said the types of thefts have run the gamut from items snatched from vehicles to bicycles.
“It doesn't look like there are any trends, it's just a mix and match,” he said.
Most other offenses remained about the same or showed slight increases. The number of patrol calls in February increased compared to January, 661 to 579, with reports also up, 102 to 88.
Year to date, the number of traffic contacts, warnings and citations are down, 53, 55 and 45 percent respectively compared to February 2006, while parking citations given to Cheney residents still remains high, 123 percent of this time last year. Campbell again attributed this to people failing to move their cars during snowfalls.
Overall, Cheney dispatchers handled 2,071 calls in February, down slightly from January, but leading to an overall year-to-date increase of 5.4 percent. Most of this stems from Eastern Washington University-related calls, which are up 33 percent so far.
Despite the increase, the number of EWU-related contacts compared to city contacts remains the same, with 51 percent of calls non-EWU related, and 47 percent EWU-related. For Campbell, this figure is surprisingly consistent.
“If you go back and pull all the old ones (reports) we've stayed right around 50 percent,” he said. “Even in the summer, it stays pretty consistent.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org