Janesville police chief warns against cutting officers
JANESVILLE Police chief Dave Moore Wednesday told of a resident who waited two hours this summer for an officer to respond to a complaint of a loud party on Memorial Drive.
Moore predicted similar lags in service if a second police officer position is frozen in the 2013 budget.
Officers will still respond to major crimes and emergencies and will work to keep neighborhoods safe and orderly, he said.
But other residents will wait an hour to see an officer at the station or wait a week for a records request, he said.
The person who called about the party later called back and complained.
"We wish we could give better service, but we just didn't have anyone to send," Moore said.
Council members met for a first 2013 budget study session Wednesday. Another session is scheduled at 6 p.m. tonight.
Manager Eric Levitt proposed freezing an officer position to help keep the city levy increase under the state limits. The $42.8 million general fund budget is a 2.15 percent increase while the tax levy increases 1.52 percent.
The owner of a home valued at $120,100 would pay an additional $2.57 for city services under the proposed budget. It also includes a $16 fee increase for garbage collection.
Moore was not happy with the suggestion to freeze a police officer position. It would be the second position in two years. A crime prevention specialist was cut last year.
Two part-time community service specialists would be hired to handle animal control and other duties at a cost of $37,449.
Law enforcement in Janesville continues to be more complex and demanding than ever, and yet the city is falling behind on staffing, Moore said.
If the city staffed according to the state average, it would have 133 officers, he said. If it staffed as Janesville's peer cities do, it would have 113 officers.
Janesville has 103 officers, and this budget calls to lower that number to 102, the lowest level since 1998, he said. The most officers the city has employed was 112.
Fewer police officers affect community policing, preventive patrols, problem-solving efforts and traffic enforcement, Moore said. His officers are not able to work on issues but instead have to go from call to call.
The council should be careful that the city maintains its perception of being a safe community, Moore said. That is why he and his officers pour so many resources into the Fourth Ward and Look West neighborhoods.
"If we keep those neighborhoods safe, our entire community will be perceived to be safe," he said.
Moore talked about a recent survey of residents commissioned by the council to help members in its budgeting.
Thirteen percent of residents would reduce law enforcement to rein in taxes while 45 percent would raise taxes to keep levels the same, Moore said.
Moore said that's significant.
"Bottom line, our citizens simply want to be safe," he said.
Councilman Russ Steeber suggested putting the officer position back in the budget at a cost of $66,566.
"I don't think we compromise on public safety," he said.
Councilman Sam Liebert suggested adding a crime prevention specialist position at a cost of $59,357. Moore said that might sound expensive, but raises for those positions don't increase as much as they would with police officers.
Councilman DuWayne Severson agreed with Steeber and said filling the officer position correlates to what people said in the survey.
Council members will consider suggested increases and reductions at the end of the study sessions.
The council also will consider hiring three additional firefighters to reduce $377,100 in overtime.