The Jamestown Police Department is planning to curtail some law enforcement activities as a way to deal with a shortage of officers, according to Scott Edinger, chief of police.
Edinger told the Jamestown Police and Fire Committee Thursday the department currently doesn't have enough personnel to accomplish all the tasks it previously handled including providing funeral escorts in most situations.
"Little or no traffic enforcement," he said, listing other law enforcement activities that are now a lower priority. "No parking enforcement, no junk ordinance enforcement, no picking up animals unless the animal warden is available."
The Jamestown Police Department has seven positions open at this time. The department also has two officers on light duty because of health issues and five rookies who have been with the department less than a year and are still at some level of training.
The Police Department has an authorized staffing level of 31 officers, although it has not reached that level for any extended period of time in the past several years, Edinger said. That means about 45 percent of the authorized Police Department force is vacant, on light duty or in training and gaining experience.
"The people leaving usually have three to five years experience," Edinger said. "But lately we have been losing sergeants and even have a lieutenant being recruited."
Edinger said some of the people leaving the department are going to jobs outside law enforcement while others have taken jobs at bigger police departments.
"Better pay and benefits," Edinger said, when asked what could be changed to aid the department in recruiting. "... Our starting wage is not terrible but could use a bump."
Base pay for an officer starting at the Jamestown Police Department is $44,600 annually. Edinger estimates that ranks the city about 30th among law enforcement agencies in the state.
"We fall farther behind as they gain experience," he said.
The base wage for the Jamestown Police Department is comparable to the Stutsman County Sheriff's Office which starts new officers between $43,900 and $45,677 per year, according to Sheriff Chad Kaiser.
Kaiser said the Sheriff's Office is currently fully staffed and has not had multiple vacancies recently.
Kaiser said one major difference between the JPD and the Sheriff's Office is the employee contribution to retirement. Sheriff's deputies contribute 2% for retirement while JPD officers have 7.5 percent withheld from their pay. Other differences include the employee share for family health insurance.
Kaiser said deputies who have left the department recently have left law enforcement for other professions.
Edinger said the shortage of officers could result in a loss of morale among the existing staff as they deal with more calls per officer and have a difficult time arranging vacation or training.
Staff shortages have contributed to an estimated $220,000 in overtime paid to police officers in 2018, according to Sarah Hellekson, Jamestown city administrator. Early estimates for 2019 indicate the overtime wages could exceed that this year.
Jamestown City Councilman David Steele said the department needs to look for efficiencies.
"Can we do things with fewer people," he said, "and distribute the pay better."
Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich said similar problems are reported by other law enforcement agencies around the region and also by other businesses in Jamestown.
"It is an issue we do need to look at," he said. "We need to find more local people to go into law enforcement."
Kaiser said the pool of people interested in a career in law enforcement seems to be declining. In the past, job openings brought as many as 40 qualified applicants, he said. The most recent opening at the Sheriff's Office had 10 applicants with some not qualified for the position.
Edinger said his department has run three sets of advertisements this spring for the current openings and received one applicant.
"We're still keeping our standards and looking for good people," he said.