The Kenai Police Department has been struggling to maintain a fully trained and fully staffed department, but a recent resolution passed by the Kenai City Council hopes to fix that.
The council voted on Wednesday to authorize the recruitment and hiring of an additional police officer position in Fiscal Year 2020, essentially authorizing overrecruitment in the hopes of maintaining a full staff.
“We’d do it in a way where we hope it would not impact the budget in any way,” said City Manager Paul Ostrander at Wednesday night’s council meeting. “It would only be used in periods where we are having significant staffing issues. The hope is that by overrecruiting we get to a point where we are fully staffed and fully trained.”
According to a memo from Police Chief David Ross, the department has been unable to reach or maintain a full staff due to current high rates of attrition. Anticipated additional attrition, difficulty recruiting and related impacts to operations and public service won’t make it easier any time soon.
“One of the near term solutions we looked at, is to pre-hire for anticipated attrition based on the consistent recent history of that,” according to the memo. “The last few years have produced significant budgetary lapse from the police department based on this inability to keep the positions filled. Hiring based on anticipated attrition does, however, carry fiscal risk that a period of staffing above what was budgeted for could exceed the budget and require additional appropriation.”
Currently, the department is budgeted for 18 officers. They have two vacancies that are being recruited for and a recent hire attending the police academy. There is also another officer on “light duty” due to an injury, according to Ross.
“Those circumstances leave four positions that are unable to fill police officer shifts at this time. Along with those currently existing issues there is the near term potential for one to three additional vacancies in the coming year,” Ross said.
On top of that, four employees will be eligible for retirement within three years.
Ross said that the lack of staffing has increased scrutiny or denial of personal leave, increased voluntary or overtime shifts, reduced or denied training, has removed the school resource office from Kenai school this year, removed an officer from the regional drug task force, has reduced time and increased scrutiny to close cases where the investigation requirements are more disproportionate to resources.
“It creates a situation where there is a lot of forced overtime and a lot of stress,” Ostrander said.
Ostrander added that there are multiple other tools the city is looking at the help with the recruitment and retention of officers.