Despite a shortage of police officers on the streets, the crime rate in Payson held steady last year, increasing only slightly. Overall, there was a drop in the number of calls, vehicle accidents and arrests.
In addition, the number of nearly all-major crimes fell from the year prior — with the sole exception of mostly-low-dollar value vehicle burglaries, said Police Chief Don Engler.
Even domestic violence and assault cases declined, reversing a worrisome trend.
Still, Payson badly needs more officers to help relieve an overworked staff, Engler said.
The department has for several years had fewer officers than the budget authorizes. Thanks to a series of retirements, firings and resignations, the department remains down seven officers — five on the patrol division.
Despite hundreds of interviews, the department hasn’t hired new patrol officers. So the department tried some creative marketing last year, posting signs on patrol vehicles and around town. The effort generated hundreds of new applications. Five made it through the invasive and rigorous vetting process and so far are doing well in training, Engler said. Some may hit the streets by September.
But with most crimes down, many wonder if the department needs the additional officers. The department is about $500,000 under budget for the year, which has prevented the town from going deeper into the red.
But Engler says the town needs more officers.
At the start of 2012, the patrol division had 13 officers and four patrol sergeants. During the year, two officers and a sergeant left. The department replaced only two, leaving five open spots in patrol.
“Due to these losses, other divisions in the department had to move into cover vacant shifts,” Engler said. Most officers now work at least one extra shift a week.
Payson Crime Statistics
Calls Index Crime Rate
2012: 20,030 43.1
2011: 20,956 42.8
2010: 28,260 43.5
2009: 26,233 42.6
2008: 24,233 44.4
As a result, traffic enforcement and “on view” calls generated by officers dropped dramatically.
That added to a steady decline in calls almost every year since 2007. The call volume from both 911 calls and officer reports on patrol dropped by a eye-popping 8,000 calls between 2010 and last year. Engler said the decline stems in large measure from the officer shortage, since he thinks citizen calls remain relatively unchanged.
An officer formerly focusing entirely on traffic enforcement used to generate a lot of calls. Now, however, officers rarely have time for traffic patrol as they go from call to call.
“We aren’t doing a lot of on view activity,” he said. “In other words, officers are going call to call and there is not time for the appropriate amount of traffic enforcement.”
Cracking down on speeding in neighborhoods and drunk drivers is critical, he said. Residents want better enforcement. That is “one of our big responsibilities and something we need to provide more time to.”
However, traffic accidents have dropped sharply — despite the lack of traffic patrols. In fact, traffic accidents have dropped by more than a third since 2007.
Even so, Engler says the town needs more officers on patrol.
“We have spread the officers we have very, very thin and they have had to work many extra hours,” he said. “If we keep pushing the officers we have at the level we have been now we aren’t going to have even a handful of officers left ... they are going to end up moving on to other departments because we have overloaded them.”
Engler said he is very proud of the staff that has hung through the lean times.
“Once again, the employees of the Payson Police Department have exceeded expectations due to the fact that staffing levels were so low for the majority of the year,” he said. “Their dedication and sacrifice to serving our community is greatly appreciated.”
He said many refused to even take sick days this year knowing the department didn’t have enough officers to cover their shift, he added.
This has affected their health and family life.
In addition, the dispatch department has struggled to remain at full staffing levels, running four dispatchers short for some of the year. The department hired three new dispatchers, but two quit shortly after joining the department. One had family issues and the other realized dispatch was not for them, Engler said.
Dispatch also lost two volunteers who answered non-emergency calls and helped with clerical tasks. Communications manager Sgt. Dean Faust also retired.
That leaves dispatch with one supervisor, five dispatchers, one reserve and one volunteer.
Despite all this, Engler said dispatch rarely drops calls and has always answered 911 calls.
This year the annual report added information about the number of commercial and residential alarms indicating how many alarms actually resulted in a burglary case.
Of the 424 alarm calls, only one was an actual burglary. That makes 423 false alarms.
The false alarms waste both officers’ time and tax money. The department has a fee structure in place to recover costs, but rarely enforces it. Sgt. Jason Hazelo recently became the alarm coordinator and will start charging addresses that have multiple alarms.