Columbia Police Department highlights need for more officers

The department is currently lacking nine officer positions.
Ben Kothe / Graphic Designer

Due to a shortage of law enforcement officers, the Columbia Police Department has had to implement a “triage system” in order to manage and respond to non-emergency calls.

This system gauges the level of threat and the necessity for immediate officer dispatch response and then determines the order in which the calls should be responded to by priority, CPD spokeswoman Latisha Stroer said.

“For an emergency that is actively in progress and happening, we would have to break from whatever we are doing and respond to that call,” Stroer said. “For true emergencies, we are not putting anyone on hold. But, for less serious calls, like say someone has had something stolen and they have no suspect information, we will put that below something more emergent.”

A proposed increase in the city public safety tax, which would allow the city to direct greater funding towards hiring police officers and providing updated equipment, will appear on ballots in the November elections.

Currently, the department is lacking nine officers, said Chad Craig, a CPD sergeant in the training and recruitment unit.

In order to keep up with population growth and maintain a set ratio of police officers to citizens, the city is required to add three officers per year, Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said in a Sept. 17 Maneater article.

According to the City Council Finance Department’s budget report, the proposed budget plan for fiscal year 2015 includes a number of spending cuts and rate increases. But it also includes proposed plans to help fortify understaffed public service institutions such as the fire and police departments.

“The budget only includes money that we are sure to have, so it doesn’t include any potential tax or rate increases, like the public safety tax increase we are proposing,” Trapp said. “If we get that, then we’ll hire more police officers. If we don’t, we’ll stick with three.”

In the past two years, CPD has seen a large class of officers retire, which has given the department both a shortage of officers in general, as well as a shortage of officers with seniority and a greater wealth of experience, Stroer said.

“I think the city has grown so quickly, and we went through a financial downturn — most cities in the country did with the economy — and it created no movement in terms of extra personnel given for the police or fire departments,” she said. “When you have a town that has grown as fast as ours has, it will cause a problem in the infrastructure, which is what we are seeing right now.”

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