Olentangy Valley News

Police chief: Five new officers would fulfill need

'Stacked calls' rise as demand on department keeps growing

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Powell's police chief asked City Council members last week to consider adding five new officers to the department over the next several years.

Chief Gary Vest gave council's Operations Committee a presentation at its May 20 meeting on the department's staffing and activities. He said the need for additional officers was "not dire," but something for council to consider during long-term budget planning.

"I think we have some staffing needs," he said. "I'm not saying we need to run out and fulfill (them immediately)."

The city currently has 17 sworn officers, with plans to hire an 18th officer this summer. Those officers serve a population of about 12,000 residents and cover almost five square miles of land.

In examining the department's staffing, Vest said he wanted to find nearby municipalities with similar populations and areas. He chose Bexley, Grandview Heights, New Albany and Worthington.

Powell is third in population and land area among the five communities, but second-to-last in the number of officers.

Bexley currently has about 1,000 more residents and 11 more officers than Powell. Worthington has about 2,000 more residents and 15 more officers.

Powell has about 3,000 more residents than New Albany and one more officer. The city has about 5,000 more residents than Grandview Heights and one fewer officer.

Vest said after conducting research on his and other departments, he thought growing the department to 22 officers was a conservative solution to its staffing needs. He said it's up to council whether the department should add an officer every year, every two years or stay at current staffing levels.

He said the department's average staffing of patrol officers is between two and 2.5 officers per eight-hour shift.

Vest said that as population has grown in the city, so has the number of "stacked calls." He said stacked calls are "calls that we're holding that we just can't send an officer to at that time."

The number of stacked calls has more than doubled since 2010, when the city had fewer than 60 such incidents. In 2013, the city had about 140 stacked calls.

Vest said he wanted to stress that the department will let reports of an identity theft or vandalism stack, but not more-serious incidents.

"An officer may be out checking your house on a vacation check, and if he gets a call on a break-in, he's going to go," he said. "Stacked calls are calls that can legitimately wait."

Vest said he'd rather have staffing levels to handle even non-emergency calls in a prompt fashion in order to better serve the city's residents.

"It's probably not a trend we'd like to continue," he said of the increase in stacked calls.

Vest said certain calls also demand two patrol officers before they can be investigated. He said one of those calls could tie up the city's entire available force or require a city officer to wait for backup from another agency.

"A domestic violence (incident) has to require a second person," he said. "If the first officer is tied up, the officers are instructed not to go in on a domestic call until backup arrives."

Vest said his philosophy on how officers respond to even minor crimes can tie up officers for extended amounts of time. He said he wants his officers to canvass neighborhoods and collect and send off physical evidence following a crime whenever possible.

"We go to a great extent to catch the people who are foolish enough to commit a crime in our area," he said.

Vest said the city needs to make sure the department still has the resources to investigate every small crime like it's a major crime in the future. He said the process is time-consuming, but it gets results in the form of arrests.

Earlier this month, Powell City Council approved raises of between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent in each of the next four years for its patrol officers represented by the Fraternal Order of Police. City officials estimate it will lead to a $48,000 budget increase in each year of the contract.

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