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Frederick police add K-9s, dispatchers and new vehicles to proposed 2018 budget

The Frederick News-Post — Kate Masters and Jeremy Arias The Frederick News-Post, Md.

April 19--In a Tuesday night workshop with members of the Frederick Board of Aldermen, Police Chief Ed Hargis dissected the Frederick Police Department's proposed budget for fiscal 2018.

With 142 sworn officers and 43 full-time civilian employees, the police department is among the largest of the city's agencies in terms of personnel. Roughly 87 percent of the department's proposed $30,834,603 expenditures for the next fiscal year was set aside for salaries and benefits, according to the budget outline.

The proposed 2018 budget represented an increase of $921,360 over that adopted for fiscal 2017.

One anticipated increase in personnel funding will come from the proposed addition of two full-time dispatchers. Last year, dispatchers for the department fielded 93,133 calls for service, a number that has been rising, on average, over the past several years, Hargis said.

There are two vacant dispatcher positions, which places additional strain on current employees, he added. Most dispatchers are unable to take time off and frequently work extra shifts when the communications center is understaffed.

Fifty-five percent of the department's overtime expenditures are due to dispatch shortages, Hargis said. The stressful work environment also contributes to a high turnover rate among staff.

"We just don't have the dispatchers to handle the volume of calls we're getting," he said. "As long as it's as stressful as it is, we'll continue to experience people leaving."

During the discussion, Alderman Josh Bokee requested a report on trends in calls for service, while Alderwoman Kelly Russell questioned the average employment span of a city dispatcher. Hargis couldn't give a specific answer, but he said that some employees left their positions midway through the training process.

Overall, aldermen sympathized with the strain on dispatch staff, which they said could also be attributed to advancements in emergency communications technology.

"They're really technical support positions," Alderman Michael O'Connor said. "It's a case where technology hasn't necessarily made the job easier."

Aside from personnel expenses, the department was budgeted to add 10 new police vehicles and one more police dog in the upcoming fiscal year.

An additional 10 vehicles -- eight cruisers and two SUV-type "utility vehicles" -- were included in the 2018 budget proposal for a total expense of $426,256.

"We try to keep cars around for around seven years, or about 120,000 miles," Hargis said. "All of the cars we're replacing are getting into that seven- to nine-year time period on the street, so we're trying to systematically spread out the number of vehicles we purchase every year."

The department began replacing its aging fleet in 2015 when it bought 10 cruisers and two UTVs based on Ford's most up-to-date police package.

Hargis also discussed anticipated changes in asset forfeiture revenue -- or the cash and assets seized during drug investigations -- based on changes to Maryland law.

In 2016, the General Assembly voted that law enforcement must notify people whose property was being seized and give them 60 days to contest the process. As a result, Hargis said, he expected this revenue to decrease or become subject to greater fluctuations.

Though the department still anticipated an increase in revenue from fines and forfeitures -- including assets seized during criminal investigations -- Hargis plans to use asset forfeiture funding more sparingly in the future.

A number of budget items that were previously funded by forfeitures -- including two new K-9 officers that Hargis hopes to add in 2018 -- will instead be added to the department's general operating budget. Forfeiture funds will be saved for "big-ticket items," Hargis said, such as new portable radios for officers.

Asset forfeitures "won't be a good, solid funding source for those smaller items," Hargis said. "It's something we've been watching for the past year."

If the city approves two new patrol dogs in 2018 -- a $14,000 expense -- the department would have seven total, including a bloodhound used exclusively for tracking. Officers are also looking at several programs that could donate the dogs to the department, Hargis said.

Overall, revenue was expected to increase in fiscal 2018 to roughly $2.9 million -- the department adopted a revenue estimate of $2.7 million in fiscal 2017.

Hargis also hopes to spend $7,957 on a new polygraph machine to replace the department's current model, which one officer estimated was 15 to 20 years old. The machine is largely used for background investigations on prospective police department employees, he said.

The department also added $23,337 for new SWAT team tactical vests and ballistic helmets. The team's current helmets, ballistic vests and plates are nearing the end of their five-year certification period, Hargis said, and the department needs updated equipment in order to remain certified.

Items on the wish list

As in previous years, Hargis also detailed the department's wish list -- items that he would like to be funded, but doesn't necessarily need.

Key items included an armored vehicle, mobile command post and a school resource officer program for high schools within the city limits.

Hargis first requested $375,000 for an armored vehicle in the department's 2017 budget proposal, but ended up dropping the request.

Though the Frederick County Sheriff's Office acquired a new Lenco BearCat armored vehicle in February, Hargis said that city police could also use a smaller vehicle to navigate city streets and alleys.

He also presented a "personnel wish list," which included a full-time background investigator for the department. Seven or eight officers are expected to retire by the end of 2017, and Hargis said that a full-time investigator could help screen replacement employees and relieve the burden on the sworn officer and two part-time civilian employees who currently handle background checks.

Hargis would like one of the part-time employees to take over the position full time. The transition would cost the city roughly $39,000, according to Katie Barkdoll, the director of budget and purchasing.

Follow Kate Masters on Twitter: @kamamasters. Follow Jeremy Arias on Twitter: @Jarias_Prime.

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(c)2017 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

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