The Longview City Council on Thursday night asked the city manager to find money to hire five more police officers in response to a presentation from Chief Jim Duscha about demands on the department.
Duscha said there were 8,884 times last year when no officers were available to respond to a call, or an average of 24 times a day and one every hour.
“To me, that’s a travesty, and we need to fix that,” he told the council.
Hiring five new offices would cost the city about $500,000 annually, an amount that is not currently budgeted. This means City Manager Kurt Sacha must scour the budget to find a way to finance the positions.
Councilman Steve Moon told the council he “100 percent” supported hiring more officers, but the cost may mean sacrifices in other areas.
“That means some programs are not going to get funded. We have to rally together as a community to keep our community safe. Five officers is still not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
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Duscha’s request followed the release of the 2018 police report, which said calls for service have jumped 53.5 percent since 1980 while the number of sworn officers in the agency is up 17.6 percent.
The police department still is operating at the 1980 minimum patrol staffing level of one sergeant and four patrol officers per shift. And the requirements for filing police reports have increased significantly.
Crisis calls like suicide attempts and overdoses, which can take hours to respond to, have increased about 4 percent.
Longview’s 31 patrol officers handle an average of about 1,400 calls each annually. Meanwhile Kelso’s 15 officers handle about 1,270 each and Vancouver’s 96 officers handle about 1,040 calls, according to the police report.
The council also supported “overhiring” for an additional position to have someone already trained and ready to go when an officer retires or leaves.
Duscha told the council that the police department lost 37 officers over the past 12 years, largely due to the high demands on individual officers. Eleven of those officers moved laterally to another agency, nine didn’t pass probation, seven retired, five resigned and five were terminated.
Other departments call Longview the “meat grinder,” Duscha said, because of how much each officer is expected to do. They rarely have time for a lunch break, he said.
Longview Police Guild President Branden McNew told the council he has tried to recruit quality officers but people often respond, “No way. You’re too busy over there. You could not pay me enough money.”
The department lost a rookie last year, he said, because the demands were so high that he couldn’t learn everything. He went to a different department where McNew said he is doing much better.
“These are officers that you paid and invested large amounts of time and money into,” McNew said. “I’m not here to complain. I’m here to say LPD will do awesome with what we have. But we could use a hand.”