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Study shows Farmington Police Department understaffed

(File Photo)

The Farmington Police Department could use two additional patrol officers now, a captain's position, and budget for two more officers in three years, according to a staffing study done by McGrath Consulting Group.

But with the Farmington City Council still in belt-tightening mode, adding an extra $180,000 to the 2017 budget looks unlikely, city officials said.

"It's something we need to figure out," Mayor Todd Larson said.

The Illinois-based company sent five consultants to interview staff, tour the grounds, review records and make recommendations on how to improve the department's staffing. They presented the report to City Council at a recent workshop meeting.

The Police Department currently has 24 full-time officers, which includes the police chief, four patrol sergeants, one investigative sergeant, one administrative sergeant, two investigators, one school resource officer, one Drug Task Force officer, one canine officer and 12 patrol officers. The civilian staff includes three full-time administrative support positions.

The department responded to 11,774 calls in 2016.

McGrath calculated the number of needed officers based on the time taken to answer the calls and determined that the Police Department is understaffed.

And while none of the officers stated they felt in danger due to understaffing, partly because help is always available from partnering agencies, they did state it caused some issues internally.

"When asked during the interviews what improvements to the department would be recommended, the most commonly raised suggestion was that communication within the department be improved, especially from the top down," the study said.

Chief Brian Lindquist said he was aware of the issue.

"It's a matter of sometimes my time is spread so thin I don't have time to type out an email," he said.

As a solution, McGrath recommended creating a captain's position between the chief and the sergeants to help improve communication.

Lindquist said he was "very supportive" of the idea, but added that every addition comes with a price tag.

"It costs on average around $90,000 per year in pay, retirement and benefits for a starting officer," said City Administrator David McKnight. "This does not include the startup costs for uniforms and equipment."

City Council has not made any decisions to add officers in 2017, McKnight said. "We will look at this request in combination with all other department requests with the 2018 budget."

The council has approved replacing one patrol officer that plans to retire later this year and is supportive of bringing on a replacement for Bosco, the department's K-9, when he retires, McKnight said.

The study looked at potential growth in Farmington. Using estimates from the Metropolitan Council Community Profile, McGrath projected Farmington's population to increase from 22,451 to 24,300 by 2020.

"Per these forecasts, the police call load could raise from the current two-year average of 11,704 to approximately 12,704 in 2020," the study said. The consultants recommended adding two officers now and two more over the next three years to anticipate growth.

If Farmington is able to hire new officers, they'll likely stay with the department for years. The study showed that officers are generally happy and turnover is very low.

"When officers are hired here, they stay," the report said. "The last officer hired by the department was on June 22, 2010, almost seven years ago."

Officers described the department as "family-oriented" and consistently expressed a high level of satisfaction with their working environment.

"Farmington staff related that they are paid well, trained well, equipped well and generally treated very well," the study said.

"It's not a surprise to me," Lindquist said. "It's what we've come to expect. It's a tough enough job; we don't want to make it any tougher."