Bainbridge police face ‘cuts on top of cuts’

While one Bainbridge police officer was in Port Orchard to drop a suspect off at the county jail the other two on-duty officers were rushing to the home of suicidal woman with a kitchen knife.

That’s about the time their radios crackled with reports of a car collision blocking a major island roadway.

“If we had anybody loose, we would have sent somebody,” said Bainbridge Police Chief Matt Haney, recounting a busy evening for his department late last month. “But when things happen all at once, all of a sudden… sometimes we don’t have the flexibility to cover all things.”

The department’s ability to cover the island may stretch even thinner next year with proposed budget reductions that would pull one patrol officer position from the payroll and eliminate the city’s emergency manager.

“The perception could be that ‘oh, it’s just one officer,’ but it does impact everything,” Haney said, expecting a roster of 22 commissioned officers in 2009. “It’ll be tough next year.”

And it’s been tough in years past, Haney said, even before the nation’s economic crisis spurred Bainbridge and other city governments to slash spending for 2009.

Last year, the department saw its patrol vehicle budget shrink by over a third. Before that, financial limitations forced the department to reassign its school resource officer to patrol duties.

“We’ve had cuts on top of cuts,” Haney said.

The department is among lowest staffed and funded compared with the police departments of similar-sized cities, according to the city’s 2006 benchmarking study.

Used as a guide in city policy-making, the study found that Bainbridge police are funded at about 30 percent below the average of five comparable Puget Sound cities, including Mercer Island, Mountlake Terrace and Lynwood.

With 1.26 full-time staff per 1,000 residents, the Bainbridge department falls short of the 1.6 average, and well below the high of 2.4.

Bainbridge police are also paid less, according to the study, with officers earning about $2,000 fewer dollars per year than police in other cities.

The study, which was conducted by CH2M Hill consultants, recommended the city add one patrol officer, a school resource officer and a half-time support staff member.

While the study’s recommendations may have led to new hires in better years, the financial realities Bainbridge faces in 2009 means every city department must make sacrifices, said Mayor Darlene Kordonowy.

Maintaining that public safety is a top priority, Kordonowy said her proposed budget spreads cuts among all city departments while softening the impact to the island’s police force.

Under her proposal, the city’s full-time employees would be trimmed from 152 down to 140. Rather than cut the patrol officer position, Kordonowy has proposed to withhold the equivalent funding until the city’s finances show more vitality.

“In these financial times, probably the best thing we can do is remove positions permanently, but we’re asking the (police) to sacrifice until another time,” she said. “If the city’s budget recovers, the first position we’ll fill is in the police department.”

City Councilwoman Kim Brackett said there are “no sacred cows” in next year’s budget, which is likely to fall almost $14 million below the 2008 spending level.

“Nobody ever wants to see a cut, but we’re facing very serious financial realities,” said Bracket, a member of the council’s public safety committee.

“It’s a dramatically different landscape. What if the case is that we have to cut three (patrol officers)? We don’t know right now.”

While cuts over the years have made policing more difficult, the number of emergency calls has declined, potentially easing the burden on the department.

In 2006, Bainbridge police responded to 17,000 calls for service. That number slipped to just over 15,300 in 2007. For the first nine months of 2008, the department responded to 11,113 calls.

Emergency calls are down in other Kitsap County jurisdictions, Haney said, noting that Bremerton is down by about 2 percent, and Poulsbo and Suquamish tumbled by more than 10 percent.

The emergencies Bainbridge police respond to are generally less “serious” than other cities, according to the benchmarking study. Bainbridge police investigated about 800 fewer serious crimes, including assaults and rape, in 2006 than the average in the five comparable departments.

While admitting Bainbridge is “a very safe island,” Haney said having fewer staff and less resources could dampen his department’s ability to maintain or improve the island’s relative safety.

“Crime doesn’t happen as often here, and we’re pleased we don’t have as much (crime) as we used to,” he said. “But I don’t want to tempt fate.”

4 thoughts on “Bainbridge police face ‘cuts on top of cuts’

  1. I hope Kim Brackett’s “sacred cow” doesn’t get involved in an accident, rob her house, get raped, or sell her kids dope at school. She’ll have to show some patience until the police are able to respond to it. Seems like she could do without the police. Until, of course, comes the time when she actually needs them. The city web site used to have a functional link where you could listen to the audio of committee meetings. At the June 16th community relations committee, Ms. Brackett ranted on about her police department. She showed genuine contempt and distrust of her own police department. “Sacred cow” indeed !

  2. Hunter,
    Instead of blaming Kim Brackett, why don’t you blame those in the City’s administration that got us into this financial mess. Oh, and don’t forget the councilmembers who continue to spend more and more on unnecessary capital projects.

    What was it on 10/8, $200,000+ additional for Winslow Way. Wouldn’t that have paid for a patrolman or two.

    You can’t place the blame on Kim Brackett, she is one of seven on a council whose majority continues to act as the minions of a puppet master staff and administration.

  3. MMA, I think there is plenty of financial blame to go around, certainly not all of it is Ms. Brackett’s fault I agree. The city, both administration (as a whole) and the council(as a whole) do not know how to handle strategic financing. I think we could go on for several posts about the city’s poor choices that we are now all paying for. My post was more geared towards Ms. Brackett’s apparent dislike or non-support of law enforcement, particularily her own police department.

  4. We could increase the number of police officers available and save money by contracting with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office. Its rare that there is a genuine need for “additional patrol officers”, but I’m sure it does happen occasionally. The police chief is describing a staffing problem created by a two hour trip to drop off a suspect at the county jail. It does not make sense to hire one or two additional FTE’s to solve an occasional two hour problem. It would cost much less to contract with the county sheriff or the Suquamish police for occasional help when our police staffing is short handed. It would also be interesting to know if taking the suspect to the county jail was really so necessary that it warranted putting the staffing below a “necessary” level.

    I see the City of Sultan has decided to save money by disbanding their city police department and contracting with their county sheriff for police services. The Sultan police officers will transfer to the sheriff’s office, the sheriff’s office will provide the same level of service to the citizens of Sultan, and the city will save significant tax dollars. Sounds like a win for all concerned. If the City of Sultan’s savings are extrapolated to the Bainbridge budget, our savings would be over $400,000.00. Time to think out of the box and consider all alternatives. I’d love to hear opinions on the upside and downside of such a plan.

Comments are closed.