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January 21, 2014 | 12:16 PM
GENEVA — Are there enough town police to protect and serve the community? The question springs to mind after two supervisors recently expressed their concerns about police staffing.

"We've never missed a shift," town Police Chief Steve Hurley said in his office Jan. 15. "We very thoroughly handle all our calls."

In an email Sunday, Jeff Monroe, president of the town's police commission, said he believes town of Geneva residents are, in no way, in any danger, nor is there a lack of protection or service in the town. "All shifts are filled, 24/7, and at no time is Geneva Township without an officer on duty. I have full confidence that Chief Hurley and the town of Geneva officers will go above and beyond to meet the needs of this community, regardless of any staffing issue that may exist."

Hurley, Monroe, Police Lt. Ken Mulhollon and Geneva Town Supervisors Gene Decker and Keith Millard said there is a staffing issue for town police. Recently, via email, Decker and Millard said this is one of the most important issues of 2014.

But in an email Monday, Geneva Town Chairman Joe Kopecky said he feels the current number of town police officers is sufficient. He also said town residents are not in any danger.

"As taxpayers, we have the Walworth County Sheriff's Department, the Wisconsin State Patrol and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources providing police services, as well as our own town police department," he said. "Therefore, as we do maintain our own town police department, the town of Geneva residents have more protection than, say, adjacent towns such as Lyons, Sugar Creek, Lafayette, etc., who do not maintain a separate police force, and reports haven't been surfacing that those towns are experiencing an unsafe or dangerous environment."

Kopecky also said the town has "a commitment to six full-time officers and a compliment of part-time officers. We cannot dilute our responsibility to those existing officers by assuming the responsibility for additional full-time officers without the financial resources to do so. Our recent budget process proved difficult as expenses are rising, yet our income sources are not. To remain fiscally responsible to the residents of the town of Geneva, we are not currently in a position financially to expand our police force."

Read more from Kopecky in a Q&A, also in this week's Regional News.

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The study

Currently, including Hurley, there are six full-time town of Geneva police officers. Hurley said there are also five part-time officers. According to a study done by Mulhollon, patrol staffing levels have not increased since 1997, yet the population went up from 4,099 in 2000 to 4,898 in 2012.

Hurley said what "definitely piqued the interest of the board members" is Mulhollon's study, which was completed Oct. 12, 2012, for a school project at the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety School of Police Staff and Command. Decker referenced it in a Jan. 7 email about his top issues for 2014.

Mulhollon states the town department does not have the resources "to deliver a standard level of proactive law enforcement services and allow for officer initiated activities. Low patrol staffing levels also inhibit the department's staffing needs during patrol deployment scheduling."

He breaks down the ratio of population, per 1,000, to sworn, full-time police officers, based on 2012 figures. At that time, the town of Geneva's population was 4,989. With six police officers, the number of officers per 1,000 population is 1.2 — the second lowest in the county, according to Mulhollon. The national average, circa 2012, is 2.5; the state average 2.3; and the county average 2.11.

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Mulhollon suggested some options for town of Geneva police:

n Increase patrol staffing with one full-time police officer in rotation.

n Use a reserve police officer to fill one full-time position to meet budgetary needs.

n Restructure the current work schedule and hours worked to produce longer work days.

The study was presented to the board in spring 2013, and to the commission July 30, 2013.

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"We did have an open discussion at the conclusion of that meeting," said Monroe. "My general impression is that everyone involved at that meeting was in agreement that hiring another full-time officer would be the best solution to the staffing issue."

Hurley said he feels hiring either one full-timer or two to four part-timers could address staffing concerns.

"I guess that it's something the town needs to look at. The town board does an excellent job managing the (municipal) tax dollars and, ultimately, a solution to staffing would be in the town board's hands."

Speaking of money, one advantage to hiring part-timers could be cost.

Mulhollon stated that a full-time police officer would make a total of $263,437 in three years — $77,605 the first year, $89,838 the second, $95,995 the third.

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A part-timer, at $17.56 an hour, would make $36,314.08 each year. Hurley said the department does not provide benefits to part-timers.

Mulhollon's cost analysis shows a difference of $154,495 between full- and part-time police officer salaries, over three years.

However, Hurley said there's another side to the issue of part-timers or full-timers. Part-timers may not always be available for needed shifts, or after they are trained in the town, they may move onto a full-time position somewhere else, he said. "While the full-time officer costs more, the advantages are an officer that learns the community and grows into the position (and there is) stability of staffing, continuity, easier scheduling, etc."

Although Monroe said he would support hiring either a full- or more part-time officers, he favors hiring a full-timer. For his reasons why, see his Q&A, also in this week's Regional News.

Unique challenges

With the current staff, how does the town police department cover a community of nearly 5,000 people?

Hurley said there is one officer per shift, and part-timers fill in when needed, either to "backfill" a shift when an officer is off or to handle other aspects of law enforcement.

"When an officer is working a patrol shift, calls for service receive priority over discretionary traffic enforcement," he said. "And, often times, the shift officer is, throughout the shift, handling other matters. So we try to use part-time officers to concentrate on traffic enforcement but it's not always possible."

For the rest of the story, check out the Jan. 23 edition of the Regional News.

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