NEWARK — With overtime expenses for the Newark Police Department expected to reach $180,000, a request by Police Chief Dave Christler to send a patrolman to training school brought a heated discussion about expenses with the Village Board last week.
“Most of the time there is a certain unrest between a village board and their police department,” Mayor Peter Blandino said. “There’s no no dollar figure you can put on public safety and there’s no question the police department is busy.”
The “unrest” became evident at last Tuesday night’s meeting when Christler asked for board approval to send Officer Aaron Dean to training for investigations at a cost of $600, plus coverage of his shift by another officer. Christler said the schooling wouldn’t make Dean an investigator — just improve upon the skills he already has. The cost for the schooling was already in the department’s budget, Christler said, but the board must still give its approval.
Trustee Jonathan Taylor questioned the need for a patrolman to be investigating major crimes when the department has two trained investigators on staff. He further shared complaints he’d heard about the number of patrol cars seen regularly in the municipal parking lot when they should be out patrolling the streets.
“If you’re going to have a police department, you gotta train them,” Christler told the board. “If you don’t train your people, you don’t ever elevate them to do better work.”
Although experience has its own learning advantages, in policing, Christler said, science and technology is always changing, and that makes training a necessity for even the most seasoned officer.
But at least one trustee disagreed.
“Throwing money at the problem doesn’t solve the problem,” Taylor said. “You’re already 41 percent of the budget. We have to get control of this.”
Christler told the board the police department is short-staffed, noting that he’d like two additional officers to help ease the load on his current crew. The department has two officers out on paid leave due to injuries from the full staff of 17, which includes the chief. At present, Christler said, his officers are working 16-hour shifts and “they’re shutting down on me.” Two more officers would give the department what they need to meet union/village labor agreement requirements, which call for two officers on duty on all shifts. But without enough officers, overtime is inevitable, Christler added.
“There isn’t a police agency in the county that doesn’t have an overtime problem,” Christler said, his frustration evident in his voice. “We (Newark officers) do three times the work of any officer in this county. Newark Police Department has the highest closure rate.”
The department is in the throes of an investigation into 20 burglaries that have occurred within the last six weeks, Christler said, and each investigation takes time. He said the department is also contending with vehicles that are breaking down on a regular basis, adding that a tire fell off one of the patrol cars just recently.
“We’re the only department in the village that doesn’t have a replacement policy,” Christler said, adding that it’s a hard pill to swallow when the fire department has $6 million worth of equipment.
Christler said he came to the board last January with $60,000 in the budget for a new patrol vehicle, but the request was tabled and the money then rolled into the current budget. Patrol cars purchased in the last five years since Christler became chief have been bought with grant money, he said, adding that village money has never been used for vehicle purchases during his tenure.
Disappointed by the chief’s comment regarding the fire department, Blandino said $130,000 is given annually to the fire department for equipment. But the mayor said they are but 3.8 percent of the village’s entire budget and they never exceed it. On the flip side, the police department is always over budget, he said. The fire department is all-volunteer, while the police department has all paid staff.
As for patrol vehicles, Blandino responded that “the cars are functional, and there’s enough cars in the fleet. There’s a difference between a need and a want.”
There are several options the board could consider to cut costs in the police department to avoid raising taxes. They range from cutting back on hours of operation in the department to hiring part-time officers who are paid less with fewer or no benefits — or the extreme measure of dissolving the department entirely — something that would require a public referendum. Even so, the board has only just begun to truly explore options.
“The board continues to evaluate options to help reduce costs while maintaining a high level of public safety the community expects,” Blandino said. “The Village Board will not compromise public safety in our decisions with our police department.”
The mayor said he intends to begin putting numbers together to see what’s best for the police department and the community. When asked, Blandino said dissolution of the police department has not been a consideration.
For the chief and officers at the Newark Police Department, it is business as usual. Christler said he understands the issue at hand even if he and the board can’t readily agree on the best solution.
“Many times the goals and objectives of elected officials to maintain or reduce taxes are in conflict with the goals and objectives of law enforcement to keep the public safe,” he said. “In the end, compromise will prevail.”