Friday, February 19, 2010

Future of Ketchum-county police contract looks good

Department reports $59,000 surplus, successful six months and 2010 plans

Express Staff Writer

Since July 1, the city of Ketchum has been paying the Blaine County's Sheriff's Office to police the town. The good news from Sheriff Walt Fleming is that Ketchum gave the county $59,000 more than needed for the job.

Femling said that money would be put into a trust account from which funds could be drawn in the event of emergencies requiring additional enforcement and overtime.

The surplus stands as only the first bullet point in a long list of encouraging news coming from the department's six-month report. The report dates back to the beginning of the city-county contract.

In the contract, Ketchum paid the county $1.56 million for 15 months of police services ending at the close of fiscal year 2010 on Sept. 30. At that time, the contract could be renewed. City Administrator Gary Marks has said the contract is $200,000 less than what the city would spend to keep the department "in-house" and fully staffed. That savings has now increased to $259,000.

Police Chief Steve Harkins said the new department isn't only saving the city money, but is raising the quality of service.

For example, the number of citations for misdemeanors and infractions was at 1,643 in 2000. By 2004, that number had dropped by 68 percent to 522 citations. In 2008, the year before the sheriff's office came in, Ketchum officers issued 349 citations.

Harkins said the sharp decline represented a decrease in level of service—officers didn't have a presence in town.

In 2009, the number of citations was back up to 729.

"Now, you see that level of service going back up to where it should be," Harkins said.

And, he said, that's not because he's demanding ticket quotas from his officers.

He said a third of the 729 citations issued in 2009 came from drivers' failing to provide insurance to an officer. Harkins said that shows that officers are being "encouraged" to get out there. He said being visible in the community prevents aggressive driving, among other activities. And, better yet, it improves relations with the community.

To better improve community policing, Harkins said, the department will implement programs in neighborhoods, schools and around town.

For neighborhoods, officers will patrol on bicycles. That was done before, but ended due to staffing constraints. Harkins said the department had eight officers before the county took over, but now has 10.

"You'd be amazed at what you see on a bike rather than sitting in a car," he said.

Plus, people are more likely to come up and talk to officers on bicycles.

"It's a good public image," he said.

He said it would also be a good opportunity to enforce bicycle-path etiquette.

Harkins said the department will also offer security checks for out-of-town homeowners. Another program will put officers on the streets in plain clothes for crosswalk enforcement. They'll cross the street, and if a driver fails to stop for the pedestrian, another officer will pull the car over. Harkins said warnings would be issued most of the time.

The department also hopes to curb excessive drinking by offering TIPS to bars and restaurants. TIPS stands for Training for Intervention ProcedureS and is a training program for educating bar and restaurant employees on the responsible service, sale and consumption of alcohol.

Harkins said there will be an annual police day at Hemingway Elementary when students will be able to sit inside a police car. He said that would also be a chance to teach children about "stranger danger" and bicycle safety. Plus, he said, the department has "loads" of helmets to give to children who can't afford one.

He said officers will also make a conscious effort to be visible during school drop-off and pick-up times.

Harkins said he thinks the department has the resources for handling these additional programs, and that officers have said they want to step up community policing. In terms of equipment, police already have the bicycles.

"From a taxpayers' standpoint, I couldn't be happier," said Mayor Randy Hall at a Tuesday City Council meeting. "I just don't know how it [the police contract with the county] could've gone any better."

And officers are happier than before, according to surveys done by Results Group of Oregon. Officers reported 65 percent satisfaction with their jobs in July. In the six months time of the sheriff's office oversight, the satisfaction rate increased to 82 percent.

Harkins said a functioning department operates at 70 percent, with 90 percent being optimal.

Trevon Milliard:

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