With overtime and training pay all but stripped away, and officers forced to take two furlough days a month, the Payson Police Department is feeling the effects.
“The worse off society gets, the busier we get,” pointed out Patrol Sgt. Joni Varga.
Not only is the PPD responding to more calls, it is doing so with fewer officers on the streets because of the forced furlough days impacting all town employees, said Chief Don Engler. Since January, all 46 PPD employees have had to take one day off unpaid for each pay period. The result has been devastating to some officers. Counting only the unpaid days, officers saw a 12 percent pay cut. Add in overtime and training days and the cut swells to 20 to 30 percent for some.
Varga said her monthly pay has dropped more than $1,000 since the change went into effect, forcing her to sell off non-necessity items and cancel future vacations.
“Personally, I have had to make huge cutbacks,” she said.
Most of Varga’s pay cut is credited to a loss of overtime, which was all but eliminated with training hours cut dramatically. Officers now only attend essential training courses. In addition, if an officer works overtime during a
furlough week, they are paid their regular wage for the extra hours. They get time and a half if they put in more than 40 hours.
While some officers can rely on their spouse’s income to make up the difference, Varga’s husband, Det. Mike Varga, also works for the PPD and has seen his pay shrink as well. Varga was quick to point out there are families far worse off than her who rely solely on an officer’s wage.
Since an officer never knows when their shift will end, it is nearly impossible for them to get a second job to make up the difference. In each department of the police force, there is at least one employee who has “fallen on real hard times right now,” she said.
With officers on furlough, the PPD has had to reorganize how it handles calls and sets up schedules.
Normally, there are two officers and a sergeant on duty. With the recent cuts, sometimes there is only one officer and sergeant patrolling.
“We have had to make a lot of arrangements with the schedule to fit in furlough days,” she said. “We have been running pretty lean with officers.”
Varga insists the level of service for emergency calls has not been affected; however, the response time to non-emergency calls has increased.
Last week for example, Varga said they were backed up eight calls one day.
So, a resident who called in a barking dog, fraud or other civil matter had to wait because domestic and in-progress incidents come first.
“We are not like the big cities where you can get a report over the phone,” she said. “We want to be a community-based department where we don’t do it by phone.”
For this reason, an officer answers nearly all calls. Since there are fewer officers on duty, requests pile up with callers waiting hours before an officer arrives.
A domestic call, for example, requires two officers on scene for safety reasons. If two officers are at a domestic and another call comes in, a sergeant has to decide if they can split up.
“We have been having a difficult time maintaining service,” Engler said. “There are times when we are very short.”
The patrol division is not the only department feeling the cuts. Varga said all departments, from investigations to administration, are suffering. Detectives have been forced to put some investigations of non-violent crimes on the back burner.
Some days, the PPD feels like a ghost town because so many people are on furlough, Varga said.
In 2009, officers responded to 26,233 calls for service. The department logged 5,014 calls for service in the first three months of the year — about the same as last year.
Engler believes call volumes have increased due to increased traffic and events in the area as well as proactive residents calling in suspicious activity.
With more people out of work or struggling financially, Varga said she has seen domestic violence and suicide calls go up on her shifts as well.
Luckily, the PPD has not seen an increase in the number of accidents since furloughs went into effect.