Hilliard City Council members said Nov. 13 they would determine staffing levels for the Hilliard Division of Police next year based on available funding and further discussions with Chief Bobby Fisher – but not so much the recent staffing study prepared by law firm Zashin & Rich.

"We will evaluate as a council the appropriate authorized strength for our police department," said Councilman Joe Erb, chairman of the public-safety and legal-affairs committee.

Erb and other council members levied criticism at the limited scope of the police-staffing study Nov. 13. Scott DeHart and Jonathan Downes, both attorneys for Zashin & Rich, initially delivered the staffing report to the public-safety and legal-affairs committee Oct. 23.

"But we're done with it," Erb said, explaining he would rely on discussions with Fisher to fill in the blanks instead of asking the law firm to provide information that was lacking in the report.

The city paid $28,410 to Zashin & Rich to perform the study, according to finance director David Delande.

DeHart and Downes agreed at the original presentation to return Nov. 13 for further inquiries, and they submitted an updated study that removed some activities that upon reconsideration were not considered calls for service, according to the report's summary, as well as making a recalculation for shift relief, a calculation of paid time-off for an individual officer.

"With these updates, the ultimate conclusion remains the same: (Hilliard's) patrol-officer staffing is sufficient to meet all calls for service demands ... at an approximately 50 percent obligated time at projected 2018 staffing levels," the report states, mirroring the conclusion of the original report.

Council members criticized the original report on several fronts. Councilman Les Carrier asked whether the staffing report considered response time.

Downes told him it did not.

"I (also) wanted a study of the entire police department," said Carrier, echoing the concerns Erb voiced Oct. 23.

Downes responded that his firm was "asked to look at what could be measured," namely the amount of calls for service and how much of an officer's time is devoted to responding to calls for service versus proactive "community policing," such as patrolling for suspicious activities.

Response times, Downes said, have many variables, and the staffing report focused on quantitative factors, such as calls for service.

Hilliard had 16,209 calls for service in 2016, according to the findings of the original study, which broke down the calls by day of the week and hour of the day, even illustrating seasonal variations.

Council members also questioned the amount of time it took to finalize the study -- about seven months.

"I was doing union negotiations (during the study) ... part of the delay was my work load," Downes said.

Erb said City Council now will focus on whether it should fund additional officers next year beyond the 34 patrol officers -- not including detectives, command staff or school-resource officers -- who achieve 50-50 ratio between obligated and nonobligated patrolling. Obligated patrolling would mean officers are responding to calls, with the opposite being patrolling proactively for suspicious activity, for example.

The division has 57 officers, 34 of whom will be assigned as patrol officers in 2018, according to the updated study presented Nov. 13.

The study indicated 39 patrol officers would be needed to reduce the obligated patrol time to 40 percent, an amount several council members have cited as a desirable target.

"My gut tells me we need more officers," Erb said.

Fisher previously told ThisWeek the "results of the study validated some of our thoughts on agency staffing. We are looking into implementing several staffing adjustments in the coming budget year, which includes adding more officers to Hilliard's streets during first and second shifts. Our community will continue to see change and growth in the coming years, and our agency's leaders will be looking at these data points each year to make staff recommendations based upon the demands that we are seeing."

Discussion of the city's budget, including the public-safety department, is expected to continue at committee meetings Nov. 20 at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way.

The 2017 public-safety budget was $10,067,724, according to Delande. The tentative 2018 public-safety budget is $10,918,277, he said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo