By JOHN McCALLUM
Managing Editor 

Cheney's emergency needs and challenges

Police challenged by fee increases, response times and personnel attrition

 

November 29, 2018

Increases in booking fees and emergency response times, combined with the potential for a large turnover in command personnel are three of the challenges faced by the Cheney Police Department in its 2019 budget.

The department was recently blindsided by a memo from Spokane County informing them that booking fees at the county jail would be increasing by 30 percent in 2019. Cheney Police Chief John Hensley told the City Council during his budget presentation at the Nov. 13 meeting that the increase was so “out of the blue” that the department didn’t find out about it until its $3.262 million budget was virtually completed, adding the last such increase was over three years ago.

“But it wasn’t this large, it wasn’t near this large,” he said. “We’ll come up with something. We always do.”

City Administrator Mark Schuller added that none of the jurisdictions impacted were happy about the increase, noting that several had “pushed back.”

“Nothing is set in stone,” he said.

The department is also seeing increases in its priority one (emergency) and priority two (accidents) response times. Priority one times have gone up “substantially” by 36 seconds to an average of 4 minutes, 6 seconds while priority two times are up 15 seconds to 5:06.


Priority three times (reports), which constitute the bulk of the calls, are down from 14:51 to 12:50. Hensley said the reason for the increase in priority one and two calls are because of increased residential development on the east side of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroad tracks — calls to which are often delayed due to rail traffic.

This is happening as overall calls for service in Cheney have been decreasing. So far in 2018, the department has responded to 24,367 calls, compared to 26,539 in 2017 and 32,569 in 2016.

Hensley had no specific reason for the decline, speculating that residents who used to call the department asking for assistance with “quality of life” issues no longer do so. The drop in calls also likely reflects the impacts to the department’s dispatch center since Eastern Washington University elected to move its dispatching from Cheney to Spokane County in November 2015.

While calls have decreased, so have reports of “Part 1 Crimes:” criminal homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft. Burglary has dropped from 61 cases in 2016 to 26 this year, larceny from 249 to 113 and auto theft from 45 to nine, the latter something Hensley said was “good, considering the Spokane area has one of the highest rates in the country.


Overall, Part 1 crime stats have declined from 445 in 2016 to 246 so far this year. Those numbers partly reflect the department’s focus on property crime prevention and investigative case clearance, one of its accomplishments in 2018. Other accomplishments included adding a second school resource officer to the Cheney School District, replacement of a patrol car and traffic speed trailer, adding a new full-time officer and a reserve officer and increased code compliance.

“We’ve cut that in half,” Hensley said, noting they are now dealing with 15-20 “chronic cases.” We’re going to focus on that and maybe next year cut that in half.”

One of the biggest challenges for the coming year is in personnel. Hensley said he would like a second detective to help clear more investigations quicker — the department currently has over 100 active cases — but mainly is focused on the fact that three employees, two of whom are captains in the department, will be eligible to retire in 2019.

Hensley would like to fill those positions from within through promotion — but that presents another challenge, that of recruiting to fill those newly vacated lower spots.

“Every agency is experiencing difficulty in recruitment,” he said. “It’s not just us because we’re small.”

Hensley acknowledged law enforcement is facing image problems, but added the biggest reasons for a lack of recruits is the inability of those applying to pass drug and background checks.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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