Additional police officers and body cameras could be on the horizon for Denison.
Denison Police Chief Jay Burch outlined the need for additional officers for multiple divisions during a presentation Friday at the City Council’s budget retreat. The retreat brings appointed city officials together with the council to discuss needs. The final decision on what will be included in next year’s budget and what will have to wait will come later from the council.
Throughout his presentation, Burch used the department’s patrol presence as a gauge for the need and described how the lack of officers could affect one of the department’s primary goals and functions. Currently, the department’s average response time is just over five minutes.
“After reviewing our current patrol personnel my conclusion is, outside of the vacancies, we are able to handle the call volume on most days,” he said. “When we are short a patrol we often have to staff with officers from other divisions.”
Burch said discussions on additional officers started in 2012 when he and former City Manager Robert Hanna determined that there was a need for seven additional officers. In 2013, two new positions were created. In 2016, the department lost two officers to retirement, one to resignation and one probationary officer to termination.
For new officers, Burch said it may be as many as 43 weeks before they are able to go out on patrol alone.
Burch said the staffing needs in the department are primarily in its narcotics and community services divisions. For the upcoming budget, Burch requested one additional officer for each of these divisions. Currently, the narcotics division has two full-time officers, with a third occasionally.
Burch said the department is in need of these positions because they cover a major part of the crimes that are seen in the city. Burch said the division is important because it is not only reactionary but also works to prevent drug-related crimes in the city.
“The deal is not just to work in the community, but also to keep it out of the community in the first place,” incoming City Council member Matt Hanley said.
The department’s community service division currently has only one officer — Lt. Mike Eppler, who serves as the Public information officer for the department. Among the duties for this division are community outreach and continued communication with victims of crime.
“I think this is another place we can put some attention on because we are woefully underdeveloped with our community service programs,” he said. “It is because we just don’t have the people.”
In response to the need, Burch outlined several possible options the city could pursue. Burch said the city could elect to use patrol staff to fill these positions. However, this could have a negative response to the department’s response time.
Instead, Burch said the city could plan to hire three to five new officers over the next five years. Burch highlighted a possible Community Oriented Policing Services grant, offered through the U.S. Department of Justice, as a way to initially fund two of these positions.
Burch said the COPS grant pays for 75 percent of a new officer’s salary and benefits for the first three years. This grant caps off at $125,000 and the department would not be able to reach the 75 percent mark in the third year.
In a second item, Burch also discussed a request for funding to purchase body cameras for the department. Burch presented two options for purchasing 35 cameras for the patrol, with additional units reserved as backups. The units Burch recommended are made by Axom, formerly known as Taser.
The first option offers the 35 cameras, unlimited cloud memory and a 20-gigabyte storage unit for $196,000 over the course of five years. The second option offers 12 terabytes of cloud storage for the entire agency but lacks the storage unit of the first offer with a price of $161,000. Both offers come with included camera upgrades after two-and-a-half years and five years, Burch said.
Similar cameras are already in use within the department, but are primarily used by the tactical team, Burch said. As the units are only used for a short amount of time by the team, Burch said these models are not as advanced as those the department is considering for patrol. They also lack the storage capacity that the new units will have, he said.
Burch said the units are important because they not only protect the officer in the event of an emergency but can protect the public. The devices can also be useful in collecting evidence during an investigation. Compared to traditional dash cameras, Burch said, body cameras have a better point of view and are more flexible in the field.
“I think the main thing is it is a closer perspective on the one-on-one contact with our officers,” he said.
City officials are expected to start work on a formal budget for 2018 in June when they meet with department heads. The City Council is expected to review the proposed budget on July 17.