by Dennis Dalman
The Sartell City Police Department will soon have a new full-time police officer.
At a recent Sartell City Council meeting, the council approved a request by Sartell Police Chief Jim Hughes to start the process of hiring a new officer for the force.
Hughes presented data showing the need for another officer. In a memo to the council, he noted his staffing level is based on the number of calls and incidents and not necessarily on per-population comparison.
Hughes said it is typical for police departments in Minnesota to have one officer for every 500 people. In Sartell, there is one officer for every 1,000 people. There are eight other Minnesota cities with populations comparable to Sartell’s (from 14,00 to 17,000), according to the Department of Public Safety. Of those departments, Sartell has the least number of sworn officers and civilian employees. Those departments average 26 officers and six civilian staff compared to Sartell’s, which is comprised of 16 officers and one civilian staff member (the dispatcher).
Hughes noted the population in Sartell has grown 45 percent in 10 years, between 2000 and 2010. As the population increases, calls to the police naturally increase as well. In one year, from 2010 to 2011, the calls and incidents handled by the police in Sartell increased by 6.5 percent. What’s more, in the first four months of 2012, there was a nearly 18 percent increase in calls and incidents compared to the first four months of 2011, Hughes noted. If that rate continues, he said, Sartell will have an additional 134 calls and incidents per month, or 1,608 of them in a year’s time. If that number is broken down to staff time, it means the eight patrol officers, two sergeants and one clerical person will handle an additional 146 incidents/calls.
Hughes presented documentation of calls for 2011 and 2012. The least amount of calls in one month was 71, the highest was 198.
Hughes also noted two officers serve in the schools nine months of the year, and the Sartell-St. Stephen School District pays for 60 percent of their salaries and benefits. Some people, Hughes said, have suggested the school officers be taken out of the schools for full-time patrol duties in the city. That solution, Hughes, said is no solution at all because the daily contact with students, which is important, would not occur, and the city would have to pay that 60 percent portion of salaries and benefits.
“I have no doubt,” Hughes wrote in his memo, “as our city continues to grow, our calls/incidents will continue to increase, and without added patrol and support staff, we will lose our ability to remain pro-active and become a reactive department. I believe it is essential at this time to replace the vacant patrol officer position we have been without since September of 2011.”
The city council agreed with Hughes a new officer is essential to maintain the public safety. They authorized Hughes to begin seeking police-officer candidates.