NCW — It won’t exactly be a happy New Year for some law enforcement agencies in North Central Washington.
Several face layoffs or a continuation of unfilled positions, some fully-staffed departments will stay fully staffed, and a couple — Quincy and Chelan County — plan to add officers.
But in at least a few cities and towns, residents will see fewer officers on the streets next year.
In Wenatchee, the erosion of the police force has been a slow but steady process, said Sgt. John Kruse.
He said five years ago, Wenatchee had 43 officers. Today there are 36, although the city plans to rehire one who resigned this fall.
Wenatchee lost three police officers this year through retirement and a layoff. The job losses came after the Wenatchee Police Guild opted not to pay more for medical insurance premiums. Instead, the union proposed an alternative plan that allowed two officers and a police records clerk to retire early and laid off one police officer.
Smaller forces without a financially-troubled arena are losing officers, too.
Come Jan. 1, the Twisp Police Department drops from three officers to two, including the town’s Police Chief Paul Budrow.
Budrow said the town is discussing combining forces with the Winthrop’s police department of three commissioned officers.
Also on Jan. 1, Omak’s 12-person department will drop to 10 officers. City administrator Ralph Malone said Omak has been living off its reserves since 2008, and this year, it’s time to face up to those lost revenues.
“It was extremely difficult. There were a lot of folks that came to the budgetary workshops and testified in favor of not reducing the police department,” he said. “The difficulty is that out of a $3.5 million budget, public safety is $2 million. If you’re going to try and make reductions, there’s got to be some participations in those areas.” He said other departments are also losing staff.
In some cities and counties, police agencies just didn’t replace officers who retired or moved on.
“We have a real tight budget, but we’re not going to be laying anyone off,” said Ephrata Police Chief Mike Warren. He said Ephrata has two open positions that he won’t be able to fill, including his captain — the No. 2 spot on his force that is supposed to have 16 officers, but is working with 14.
Douglas County Sheriff Harvey Gjesdal said he doesn’t expect to lay anyone off either, but his agency also won’t be filling two positions currently vacant on its force of 27 commissioned officers.
“The irony of this whole thing is, in times like this week, it seems like we need more public safety,” he said.
Some agencies, like those in East Wenatchee, Tonasket, Oroville, Brewster, Okanogan County, and Grant County expect to stay at current levels, officials in those jurisdictions said.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t trimming their budgets in other ways. “I did receive a substantial cut, but I’ve made the choice to maintain the police officers before other expenditures,” said Brewster Chief Ron Oules. Oules said he will lose an administrative position in the police department. “But the Brewster citizens were very very outspoken in favor of maintaining our six-man police department.”
And then there are the lucky ones.
Quincy Police Chief Rich Ackerman said his department will be adding one police officer after the city council decided to place an officer at the Quincy School District to teach a program there. That brings his total force of commissioned officers to 15.
Chelan County is also preparing to hire more deputies. Sheriff Brian Burnett said when he took office, he had 54 commissioned officers, and he now has 58, partly due to a reorganization instituted this year. By next January, he expects to have 60 officers.
He said some deputies were added based on the number of calls in cities covered by the county, and the need to sufficiently cover those areas.
He said he’s also been working with schools and the county public works department to help share the cost of added police. Chelan County plans to add one traffic position in January, another in July, and depending on an evaluation of the program, a third in January 2014. “We believe the priority needed to be back on patrol,” he added.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512