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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mayor, City Council consider adding 10 Spokane police officers in 2018

FILE - Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, center, is flanked by Spokane Mayor David Condon, left, and City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, far right, during a news conference in September 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Police Department could add 10 officers next year under a draft budget proposal in negotiations at City Hall.

Mayor David Condon and the City Council have both committed to the money for the new hires, which could potentially bring the department’s number of commissioned officers to 325, continuing on an expansion of the force that began after the economic downturn a decade ago.

The cost of the new officers will be split between grant dollars and anticipated growth in the city’s tax receipts, interest income and business fees, said Mayor David Condon.

“This is what’s so critical in holding our costs at our growth rate, so that we can make these continued investments in law enforcement,” Condon said.

Police Chief Craig Meidl said the new hires likely would be assigned to patrol.

“We’ve felt like we needed more officers for years, based on our overtime,” Meidl said. “We also understand we have to be good stewards of the city’s money.”

The department’s overtime costs have fallen in recent years, based on salary data. In 2014, the amount paid to the police department in overtime eclipsed $4.1 million. In 2016, that number fell to $3.3 million, but police continued to accrue the largest overtime costs of any department at City Hall.

City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said she was encouraged to see the commitment to hire the officers in the mayor’s budget proposal for next year, after the city had to scrape together funding last fall for four neighborhood resource officers.

“I consider that a win, and I consider that the best possible outcome, when the council and administration work together,” Kinnear said.

A consultant’s report presented to the city this summer indicated Spokane police were spending a majority of their time reacting to calls. In order to free up time to proactively patrol for crimes, the report indicated the city should consider hiring 44 more officers.

Meidl said the department could use that many additional officers. But he and Condon said the city also should be looking to reduce the amount of time officers must spend responding to calls.

For instance, Meidl said supports the resurrecting a program that would allow an officer to oversee shoplifting reports made by retail store employees. In a presentation to the City Council earlier this year, the department listed 10 private retailers among its top 25 locations receiving the most 911 calls in a two-year period ending last December.

An average shoplifting call can take an hour of an officer’s time, including interviews of the person detained, Meidl said.

“In most situations, that’s going to free up a lot of an officer’s time,” Meidl said.

Condon suggested the city might consider hiring social workers instead of additional police to supplement the department’s chronic offender unit. That team was launched in 2014 to identify habitual lawbreakers and provide guidance toward public services, a task Condon said might be better suited to those who have received training in social work so that officers could return to the streets.

“When you go back and look at the workload, does it say we need (44) more officers? Well yeah, if you keep the environment the same way it is today,” Condon said. “But what if you change the environment?”

Kinnear said even if the council and mayor sign off on the 10 additional hires in next year’s budget, Spokane’s department still will be short-staffed compared to other cities of similar size. She also said the city needed to look at permanent sources of funding for officers and not depend on grant money, which has an expiration date, to pay officer salaries.

“We have to make sure it’s a priority for us,” Kinnear said.

The City Council is scheduled to begin public hearings on the 2018 budget later this month.