SH cops exiting to Lebanon

Sean C. Morgan

Three Sweet Home police officers have resigned and accepted positions with Lebanon Police Department in recent weeks.

Resigning and taking positions in Lebanon were Justin McCubbins, Taylor Jackson and Chad Christenson. The final resignation was effective on Dec. 31. The resignations leave Sweet Home Police Department down four out of 10 officers it had most of the past year. The department already had to reduce one officer for budgetary reasons in November. Officer Randy Gill resigned then.

The sworn police officers, the include a police chief, two sergeants and two detectives.

One detective, Jason Ogden, has been moved to patrol for now, said Chief Bob Burford, bringing the total number of patrol officers to seven. One of the sergeants will pull a full patrol shift to help cover the gap.

“We are really going to be struggling, losing three officers all at one time,” Burford said. “On top of already cutting back, it’s going to be a challenge.”

The 10-man patrol roster allowed the department to ensure two officers on during every shift, Burford said. Two of them acted primarily as traffic officers. The traffic officers could fill in when other patrol officers were on vacation, at court or sick, maintaining two-man shifts.

In a perfect world, Burford said, with no officers out on vacation, sick leave, court or parental leave, the department would have two officers on at all times.

The department already is working on filling the three vacancies, Burford said. “As soon as we learned we were likely going to be having these resignations, we started a recruitment process.”

The department held an assessment center and physical ability testing session in early December, he said. Officials are working on the background investigation phase of the hiring process.

“I would be surprised if we find three suitable applicants out of this first process, but we’re hopeful,” Burford said.

New officers are ready to work solo after roughly nine months following hiring, Burford said. “It’s a long, arduous process. It’s costly to train new officers.”

The resignations follow extended contract negotiations between the Sweet Home Police Department Emergency Services Union and the city, which ended late October with an agreement to provide a 3-percent raise for police and dispatch employees for the 2010-11 fiscal year, no increase in 2011-12 and a 3-percent increase to salaries in 2012-13. – well below what the union had requested.

The union had sought a 3-percent raise in 2010-11 and 5-percent raises in 2011-12 and 2012-13. The union also sought eight hours of compensatory time each month for police officers to offset what it believes are extra hours worked each month by officers under a 12-hour shift cycle.

The resignations have allowed the department to maintain its dispatch center at full staffing levels.

The department had planned to lay off a part-time dispatcher, but for the time being will keep the position filled, Burford said. The department is seeing enough savings from the resignations to fund the position.

It’s too soon to tell when or if the position will need to be cut, Burford said. “I believe we’ll be able to keep dispatch intact through the remainder of this fiscal year (which ends June 30).”

Burford will remain in his position in 2012. He retired officially at the end of 2010 and then returned under special contract, as authorized by state law for police chiefs, for 2011.

“Craig Martin (city manager) has asked me to stay a while longer,” Burford said.

Martin said the chief can provide assistance in working the streets and he would like Burford to assist in looking at long-term stable funding options.

“Obviously, with the loss of three officers recently, I certainly want to retain stable leadership,” Martin said. “First and foremost is to retain as many of qualified and competent people as we can,” Martin said.

Because the city has been facing revenue shortfalls, prompting budget cuts, officials are searching for ways to improve the department’s funding, which currently comes through a local option levy, which must be renewed by voters periodically. This funding mechanism is more susceptible to compression, reduced revenue caused by property tax limitations, than permanent property tax rates.

With the chief working under contract, the city no longer needs to pay retirement benefits, Martin said.

“It’s not costing us anymore, and it’s probably showing, depending on circumstances, slight savings.”