Sammamish adds new officer
January 31, 2013
Despite an exceedingly low crime rate and no signs that crime is on the rise, the city is adding a new police officer to its ranks in 2013.
That officer, who will be assigned to patrol in the afternoons and evenings, will cost the city a total of $150,000 a year when wages and medical benefits are taken into account.
Police Chief Nate Elledge said the additional officer is a step closer to one of his goals – having a minimum of three police officers on patrol in the city around the clock, compared to the current two. Administrative Services Director Mike Sauerwein said it would likely take two additional officers on top of the new hire to achieve the three-officer minimum – approximately $300,000 a year more.
“It’s a long-term goal – it’s going to be years before we get there,” Elledge said.
The Sammamish City Council unanimously approved the new hire as part of their 2013-2014 budget discussions, despite the fact that Councilman Ramiro Valderrama, a member of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he didn’t think the additional cop was justified. Valderrama said he’d like to see any additional hires in the future aimed at specific crime problems the city is trying to address.
But despite the city’s low crime rate, Jonathan Wender, a criminologist at the University of Washington, said you could make the argument that Sammamish is under-policed, with such a sprawling area and large population.
Wender said two uniformed officers per 1,000 residents is generally considered an industry standard, though communities range broadly based on their population, location and funding. With the new hire, Sammamish will have 23 uniformed officers – roughly a half an officer per 1,000 residents or one officer per 2,000 residents.
With many municipal governments struggling with budget woes and laying off police, Wender said Sammamish is blessed to be able to add an officer.
“One of the ironies of police staffing is that the affluent communities that can afford large police departments are the ones that don’t need them,” he said.
Wender said having a three-officer minimum has some distinct advantages over the two-officer minimum. Department policy requires that two officers respond to many types of calls, such as domestic violence or a burglary alarms. If one of those calls occurs late at night in the Tibbets Station neighborhood, for example, it could mean a slow response to an incident in the Timberline neighborhood.
The King County Sheriff’s Office recently opened a precinct in Sammamish City Hall, but deputies do not typically handle Sammamish calls unless there’s a major incident.
Though there’s no signs that crime is on the rise, that doesn’t mean officers aren’t busy, Sullivan said. The department had a 13 percent rise in the amount of calls it was dispatched to in 2012 – from 3,750 in 2011 to 4,272 in 2012. Those calls could be relatively minor things like neighbor disputes or domestic arguments rather than crimes that show up in the year-end numbers.
“When we tell people that there’s a minimum of two officers out there at any given time, they’re usually surprised,” Sullivan said. “People believe that there’s more police out there than there are … (A three-officer minimum) would bridge that gap between expectations and reality.”