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Councilors clash over cops

A discussion of budget guidelines for city staff at Monday night's council meeting turned into a debate over the police department's size that pitted its newer councilors against its older ones.

It included Councilor Ken Hays' saying the department was perhaps twice as big as necessary and Councilor Erik Erichsen's saying the department needed to look harder for budget cuts.

It also included Councilor Walt Schubert, who is up for re-election, challenging Hays and others to ride along on an officer's shift.

City staff was asking the council what policies it should implement when trying to balance a 2010 budget without drawing down the city's reserves.

The three-hour discussion included proposals from city staff to establish a municipal court, update permit and user fees and move the planning and public works departments to city-owned property, all to save money.

Then Erichsen said, "There needs to be some soul searching in the police department. I believe there's ways they can save there."

Interim City Manager Linda Herzog replied that the police department had suggested cutting some programs but the council had said they didn't want those programs cut.

"I've already lost 21/2 full-time employees, more than any other department," said Police Chief Robert Spinks.

"So if there's any suggestions on where to cut, I want to hear them."

Hays said a lot of resources have been put into the police department and he questioned whether the city needed one officer for every 250 residents versus one for every 1,000 residents.

Spinks said according to three nationally recognized benchmarks of police department staffing, Sequim's 19-officer police department is understaffed.

Workload is a better gauge of staffing levels than population and the city is right where it should be, he said.

Sequim is more like a city of 15,000 to 18,000, not 7,000, Spinks said.

"I'm not asking for more staff," he said.

"I've pulled back the school resource officer to cover for a $100,000 cut in overtime.

Spinks said the department has utilized its detectives, who have solved several felony cases that made the streets safer, but now one of them has moved to patrol duties.

Schubert asked Hays, "Explain specifically where, so (Spinks) can cut."

Hays said perhaps the detective work could be shared with the county or contracted out.

"Sometimes I feel the force is big enough to invade Carlsborg. I don't feel the city streets are dangerous or ugly," Hays said.

Spinks said since the police department is such a large part of the budget, he has to ask where he might make cuts.

"It's a compliment that you don't realize what's going on," he said.

"Nobody else has lost real bodies. We have and we've experienced a 90-percent increase in call volume in five years," Spinks said.

The Sequim Police Department also serves 20,000 residents who live in the valley, so the city is unique, he said.

"I'm not asking for more."

Mayor Laura Dubois said she thought some of that increase in call volume related to dispatched calls was inflated.

Spinks said the calls for service are clearly delineated in the department's annual report between dispatched calls, incidents that officers spot and quick calls that don't require a police report.

Then Schubert said, "Ride a night shift with an officer and talk to Sheriff Benedict regarding how efficient our officers are and how they are handling calls in the county. Those are two things you must do."

Dubois said she wasn't talking about cutting officers but there were lots of other programs.

"We've gone over the whole budget," Spinks said.

Hays said, "We can't sustain the police department's growth."

Reach Brian Gawley at bgawley@sequimgazette.com.

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