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Mayor, council back four cops in Langley
Law and order, and the occasional jump start, will be doled out by four Langley police officers for the new few years.
Six months after requesting a police department survey of its activities and expenses over the past five years, Mayor Fred McCarthy proclaimed Tuesday night that the city would operate with four cops — including a chief — which was budgeted for 2014.
“I believe the right-sized configuration for the size of the city is four officers,” McCarthy told the city council at its regular meeting Feb. 18.
The council unanimously approved a formal confirmation of McCarthy’s recommendation, with Councilwoman Margot Jerome voting from North Carolina via Skype. Some council members preceded their vote with boisterous support for the Langley Police Department. It was a strong affirmation after the council was largely silent in November when McCarthy originally proposed the study and delayed hiring a new police chief until after determining the police staff numbers.
Costs associated with paying overtime and reserve officer pay were major factors in the mayor’s decision. Back in 2012, the last full year the city operated with three officers, Langley spent $51,089.63 on overtime and reserve officer pay. The city estimated the cost for an officer’s wage and benefits at about $70,000.
Acting Chief David Marks said the shift rotations were challenging. Three officers working 40-hour shifts per week left 48 hours unaccounted for, at best. Marks said the police shifts often overlap so officers can share information about any ongoing cases or pending issues. Even when they were off the clock, the officers were regularly on-call without pay. Wear and tear on the police operating with two officers and one chief was the tipping point.
“If we’re already paying $51,000 for overtime and reserves, paying $70,000 for another officer is certainly justified,” said Councilwoman Rene Neff.
Added Councilman Bruce Allen: “We’re killing the officers at three.”
In the mayor’s written recommendation, McCarthy cited a rise in burglaries, along with armed robberies, in surrounding, unincorporated areas around the city as a reason for adding another officer. Last year, the city budgeted and hired a fourth officer. At the time, then-Chief Randy Heston thought it would allow the department to visit the nearby South Whidbey schools as a form of crime prevention. Schools around the state and country have resource officers as a way to connect children with law enforcement, the idea being that officers can nip seeds of unlawful behavior before they take root.
McCarthy wrote that an increase in heroin use among young people on South Whidbey also pushed him to restore the city’s police force to four officers.
“The importance of an officer presence as a school and community resource ... is considered an opportunity to influence the decision-making strategies of young people with regard to avoiding substance abuse,” wrote McCarthy, who retired as the superintendent of the South Whidbey School District in 2011.
According to the study, cities like Friday Harbor, La Conner and Coupeville utilize at least four officers. Friday Harbor’s population of 1,875 has four officers; La Conner’s population of 780 has five officers; and 1,610 Coupeville residents had five officers, though the town is currently down to just one as it shifts to service by the Island County Sheriff’s Office starting March 1.
McCarthy said he wanted to keep the four-officer police department for at least the next two years. At that point, the city would evaluate its law enforcement needs.