By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek, October 8, 2021.
Mill Creek Police Officers showed up to the October 5th city council meeting in force, both in person and virtually. Their goal was to let councilmembers know the city’s police officer staffing shortages are putting public safety in jeopardy.
Officer Steve Smith read a detailed and lengthy letter letter that began as follows, “The guild has come to you tonight, desperate for your help. Last week’s council meeting left us with mixed feelings. Concerned that the city council is not getting enough information to understand the full extent of our department’s current status, but hopeful because even with that incomplete information, it seems clear that the council wants the best for our officers, our community, and wants our department to be successful.”
“We are here tonight to give you an honest and complete picture of our staffing and how desperate our situation is. We are drowning and we are pleading for your help.”
Smith went on to say, “When I was hired in 2006, our population was approximately 14,000 and we had 26 officers. Our population is now well over 20,000 and we are now down to 19 officers. The last time our department hired a new officer was in April of 2017. There are three officers currently in the process of leaving and we will be down to 16 officers within two to three months.”
He explained that the low staffing levels are causing officers to work overtime to provide the bare bones minimum of three on-duty officers per shift.
He said, “Operating at minimum staffing means every single time an officer needs to miss work for any reason, another officer has to come in to work overtime on their day off. This is already happening more often than not.”
“We have officers working stretches as long as 18 consecutive 12 hour shifts, simply because there isn’t anyone else to do it and they don’t want to leave their partners out to dry.”
The Mill Creek City Council has decreased police officer funding over the past budget cycle. They funded 23 police patrol officers in the 2017-2018 Biennial Budget, 23 police patrol officers in the 2019-2020 Biennial Budget, and 22 police patrol officers in the 2021-2022 Biennial Budget.
During an October 7th telephone interview Police Chief Jeff Young said he agreed with Smith explaining, “It’s not about maintaining minimal staffing levels, it’s about having adequate staffing levels. If we lost four more officers we could no longer respond to non-violent or not-in-progress calls like they are doing in Austin, Texas, right now.”
He went on to say, “The council needs to act immediately to ensure the safety of the community and its police officers.”
Smith said that beginning in April he and other officers met repeatedly with City Manager Michael Ciaravino to ask him recruit more aggressively to fill the funded positions.
He told councilmembers that the city's response was, “A bare minimum effort, lateral hiring bonus that wasn’t even competitive with our neighboring agencies, written in an MOU (memo of understanding) that tried to blame our staffing shortage on COVID. Our staffing shortage has nothing to do with COVID. It was caused by neglect and mismanagement.”
On October 5th the city council took some initial steps to more aggressively recruit police officers by authorizing the City Manager to offer a $20,000 lateral signing bonus for trained and experienced officers coming to the city from other agencies.
They are in the process of discussing amendments to the 2021-2022 Biennial Budget, but Police Department staffing levels haven’t yet been addressed.
Editor's Note: This article was edited to correct the number of police patrol officers in the 2021-2022 budget. The correct number of budgeted patrol officers is 22, not 20.