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More time to fight crime

Cities consider request to increase contracted hours with Sheriff

JOHNSON COUNTY– Growing populations require additional services, and law enforcement is usually at the top of the list.
Once each year at municipal budget time, Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek visits the governing bodies in each of the county’s smaller communities to report how often his department protects and serves them.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) is the primary law enforcement agency for the unincorporated parts of the county and provides contracted services to cities without their own police departments– Hills, Lone Tree, Oxford, Shueyville, Swisher, Tiffin and Solon. Additionally, the JCSO is responsible for several specialized countywide services, including a K-9 Unit, the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team (SERT), Water Search and Rescue, Water Patrol and the Johnson County Metro Bomb Squad.
According to the JCSO annual report, deputies patrol 36 miles of Interstates 80 and 380, 54 miles of state highways and 909 miles of county roads.
Cities get a monthly report of service calls made within their municipal boundaries and Pulkrabek offers a snapshot of the total number of hours deputies spend in each town compared to their contracted hours.
Pulkrabek sometimes finds discrepancies between the two numbers, as was the case in both Tiffin and Solon this last fiscal year.
In response, both city councils discussed the possibility of an increase in patrol hours, perhaps as soon as next year.
Sheriff Pulkrabek made his annual trip to the Solon City Council Oct. 21, and based on feedback from a year before, came with options for council members to consider.
Solon currently receives 32 hours of service per week (1,664 hours per year) from the Sheriff’s Office, with an added 40 hours of coverage during Beef Days in July.
In response to higher departmental expenses, the Sheriff’s Office instituted a policy to increase the per-hour cost of patrol time to contracting communities every other year. According to the information Pulkrabek provided, the hourly wage for a Johnson County deputy is $31.06, but when combined with benefits, it jumps to $45.02 an hour.
“Of course, the wages and benefits doesn’t include any costs for the car, it doesn’t include any costs for training of the deputy, fuel or anything like that,” Pulkrabek said. If an arrest is made, he noted, the time for transporting or filing paperwork is not counted against the city’s contracted time.
Nor does the city get charged for hours accumulated by detectives investigating a crime, unless it’s a long, drawn-out process or when special patrol is required to address a spate of intensive criminal activity.
In 2014, the cost per hour for a sheriff’s contract went from $39 to $41, raising Solon’s annual cost from $66,456 in 2014-2015 to $69,864 for the current fiscal year.
Based on council’s previous comments, Pulkrabek said, Solon appears interested in gradually increasing patrol time in the off years when no rate increase is planned.
Solon could opt to add two hours of patrol time per week (34 hours weekly) or four hours (36 hours weekly), Pulkrabek suggested. That would bump the city’s expense to $74,128 or $78,392, including the extra presence during Beef Days.
Through the first nine months of 2015, he reported, the Sheriff’s Office has exceeded the amount of patrol required by the Solon contract by over 293 hours.
“Obviously, you guys get a lot of hours out of us that you’re not paying for,” he said. “I don’t think it hurts that you have a significant number of deputies that live in your community.
“The Sheriff’s Office is giving you a pretty good bang for your buck,” he concluded.
Mayor Steve Stange reiterated his request to see compiled information regarding the volume and types of crimes being committed in Solon.
Reports of Sheriff’s Office activity are provided to each city on a monthly basis, including deputy hours logged, the number of incidents by category, the total number of hours and minutes spent in each incident category, and the individual dispatches to locations within the city’s limits, but Pulkrabek said his office does not have the ability or time to consolidate the data further for individual communities. Further, said Pulkrabek, the crime mapping software his office was hoping to develop has been delayed and he was unable to report any possible timeline for its completion.
“You see the calls for service, and you see the sort of stuff we get called to monthly on these reports, and that’s really all we have,” Pulkrabek said.
Stange said the ability to have a bigger picture of annual activity would give the city a better way to gauge the need for added patrol.
Tiffin also experienced an overage in fiscal year 2015, Pulkrabek reported at the Tiffin City Council’s Nov. 25 work session.
Tiffin contracts for 33.5 hours per week, for a total of 1,742 annual hours of service. However, as of October, deputies had spent 1,859 hours in Tiffin, leaving the Sheriff’s Office with an additional 117.25 hours unpaid by the contract, partly due to the city administration’s request for extra traffic patrol during extensive road construction on Ireland Avenue.
“We’ve never billed back for excess hours,” Pulkrabek said. “It’s just a service we provide.” But paid hours of service should be brought more in line with what the contract states, he added.
Pulkabek asked that Tiffin consider bumping its contracted time to 36 hours a week. It would boost the city’s cost from $71,422 to $76,753.
“If the council elects not to increase the contract for the next fiscal year, I’ll probably pay a little closer attention to our hours, and get our guys out in the rural areas more and not spend as much time here,” Pulkrabek said.
Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner acknowledged it has been a topic of council discussion for the last three years.
“We did not increase (the hours) as much as we wanted to because of the hourly rate increase to get (the deputies) up to where they need to be paid; that’s why our hours have been flat, but the council has made it very clear we want those hours increased,” Berner said. “I’m sure the council will do at least the bump you are asking for, and I’m hoping they’ll do a little more.”
Pulkrabek replied that his office is ready to serve.
“It’s our desire to meet the needs of the council when things go on; we’ll take care of it just like we do with the rest of our towns,” he said.
No action was scheduled on the item, but council member Jo Kahler offered her preliminary opinion.
“If it’s necessary for them to be here, that’s all right,” Kahler said.
Sheriff’s Office contracts will be formally considered as part of each city’s budget process over the next two to three months.