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Study proposes full Langley police staff, neither option allows 24/7 coverage

Charlie Liggitt, an officer with the Langley Police Department, patrols on foot around the city. For the past six months, the city’s law enforcement operated with two officers and an interim chief, which they say spread them too thin and exposed them to excessive “officer fatigue.”  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Charlie Liggitt, an officer with the Langley Police Department, patrols on foot around the city. For the past six months, the city’s law enforcement operated with two officers and an interim chief, which they say spread them too thin and exposed them to excessive “officer fatigue.”
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

A months-long study of whether the Langley Police Department should have three or four officers, set to be discussed by city leaders Tuesday night, concludes that four officers are needed.

But Mayor Fred McCarthy, the man in charge of setting staff sizes and city hall priorities, neither agreed with nor rejected the study’s position ahead of the city council meeting.

The study was conducted at McCarthy’s request by acting Chief David Marks. The mayor declined to divulge his recommendation, saying he had not informed his staff and wanted to reveal his position at Tuesday’s meeting.

“There’s all sorts of opinions and controversy about what the size of our force would be,” McCarthy said, adding that the study will give city leaders something to lean on as a defense of the police force’s numbers.

“We’ll have the response that we did a comprehensive study.”

Despite not tipping his hand as to whether he would seek to hire a fourth officer, McCarthy said his recommendation would not allow for 24-hour Langley Police Department coverage for the city.

“I don’t think we can get 24/7 coverage from either recommendation,” he said.

The more-than-60-page study concludes that the estimated $70,000 savings for Langley by having two officers and a police chief would be negated by overtime costs, reserve officer pay and a potential strong-arm move by the Police Guild.

“I included some strong language in there, but it’s pretty clear to me that we need four officers,” Marks said.

Currently, Langley’s law enforcement is not compensated for on-call duty. While on-call, officers are expected to respond within 10 minutes, if needed, limiting where they can go and what they can do. Should city leaders opt for a three-officer staff, the guild would seek compensation for on-call time, cutting the potential cost savings.

“The Police Guild has never asked for its officers to be compensated for their on-call time,” Marks wrote in the study’s conclusion. “However, if the city decides to stay with three officers, the guild has stated they intend to demand compensation for on-call time.”

Langley figured to save about $70,000 on salary and benefits by eliminating a fourth officer. In the city’s 2014 budget, however, a fourth officer was penciled into the General Fund, though a new police chief would be hired first if city law enforcement ranks revert to a four-man department.

In 2012, $51,089.63 was spent on overtime and reserve officer pay, a sharp jump from 2011 when the city employed 3.5 officers and paid $21,590.63 in overtime and reserve officer pay. The last full year Langley had three officers and a chief, 2010, the city paid a five-year low of $10,806.37 for overtime and reserve wages.

The immeasurable toll on the officers is fatigue, Marks said. Currently, Langley police are on a vacation freeze, and several have worked their full 40-hour shifts plus several hours of unpaid, on-call time. Marks said it got to the point where he and his officers wear their uniforms while on-call and even while sleeping. Keeping three officers would be a continuation of wearing out the city’s law enforcement.

“It looks like a lot of on-call time, officers working when they’re sick,” Marks said. “It’s hard to take vacation.”

According to the study, Langley police responded to 1,252 calls in 2012. Many were non-violent, from giving legal advice and opening a car with the keys locked inside to jump starting dead batteries, welfare checks and commercial alarms. One of the duties performed by Langley touted in the study is the department’s ability to do checks on temporarily vacated properties and vacation homes, as well as responding to animal and noise complaints.

A piece of good news was tucked away in the city’s call response log: only one death investigation occurred in 2012, a historically low number for the city. Typically, according to the report, at least one death investigation is performed each month.

Of the more common crimes, such as theft, domestic violence, and car prowling, numbers were also low. A total of 95 domestic disputes — 62 physical, 33 verbal — were responded to by Langley officers; 25 aggravated assaults, 15 thefts, two shoplifting reports, and four car prowling incidents, which the study called “another historically low number. We’ve worked diligently to force known car prowlers out of the city.”

A hiring process will commence for a new police chief to potentially replace Marks, who was appointed acting chief in September after former chief Randy Heston retired. It would likely take a month and will begin once the council confirms the mayor’s recommendation.

 

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