Editor's note: This story is part of an occasional series that will examine Oro Valley budget issues leading up to the approval of the 2005-06 budget.
May 18, 2005 - Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp believes in approaching law enforcement in a proactive, not reactive, way.
He teaches this philosophy to the criminal justice students who take his class at the University of Arizona, and when he joined the town almost six years ago, he was excited to be in a community where he could actually practice these strategies.
"That's what this community wants," he said. "They expect it, they demand it."
Oro Valley has long been known for its low crime rates, particularly in the area of violent crimes, and Sharp said he attributes that to the attitude of residents and the ability to have proactive programs, for example dark house watches and high visibility traffic law enforcement.
So when Sharp began the budgeting process in November, he sat down and thought about what it would take to stay ahead of the game for the next year and for years to come. He thought about the thousands of square feet of new retail spaces coming to the town, and about what that would mean in terms of increased traffic, thefts and related crimes. With the possibility of a movie theater being built in the Oro Valley Marketplace, planned for the corner of Tangerine and Oracle roads, he thought, too, about a possible increase in auto thefts. Theaters, he said, are known to be targets for these crimes because patrons are inside for long periods of time.
He also thought about the people who continue to move to the town and about ways he would need to keep them safe and educated about crime. And he thought about the new hospital that just opened on Tangerine Road, how many more calls his department has already received from there, and how many more it can expect as business picks up.
And once it was well thought out, Sharp requested about $3 million more in this year's police budget than was spent last year, much of it to be dedicated to new programs and staff to keep up with the growth of the community.
The police department is the town's biggest department. Last year's total expenditures by police totaled about $8.6 million, and this year spending was requested to exceed $11 million.
Sharp said he realized the department "was asking for a lot" in its requests and so he prioritized the staff and programs he wanted to add before submitting them to the town manager.
However, of the 17.5 new positions Sharp requested in the 2005-06 budget, none are being recommended by Town Manager Chuck Sweet to the council for consideration.
Sharp said he was told this year would be "a maintenance year" for the police department, a year to keep up all the programs currently in place, without any cuts, but not to add anything new.
"It's expensive to bring on a lot of people," Sharp said.
And, he said, many of the positions he requested were in anticipation of growth, and that growth has slowed down to some extent, particularly with a majority of the commercial development not expected to open for business for a few more years. He believes not adding the new staff this year will not hurt the department. However, he said he will likely ask for all of the same positions again next year.
Sweet said that when the town staff sits down to balance the budget each year it takes into consideration the money coming in and the money obligated to go out. Salaries are a large portion of the money going out, and so the addition of any new positions is carefully considered.
"It's about the availability of funds," Sweet said.
To add the police positions would mean spending money on salaries from the town's contingency reserves, he continued.
"It's like taking money out of your savings account. It's not a smart thing to do," he said. If more money doesn't come into the town in the future to pay for those salaries, "then you're in a corner and you have to lay people off," something no manager wants to do, Sweet said.
He added that at this point in Oro Valley's financial planning the budget is being recommended one year at a time, but he is not concerned that not adding the positions in the police department this year will put the town behind in coming years.
Sweet said no staff cuts will be made in the police department, and, even without any of the new positions, the level of service the department provides will continue as is.
"None of the proactive programs will be affected," he said of this year's budget recommendations.
Sweet has told the council in recent budget work sessions that he is considering this year a maintenance year for the budget, a year to keep up with everything without adding too much. He said that after next year the state-shared revenue will be adjusted and will reflect any population increases over the past five years, which should bring more money to the town. In addition, some of the retail projects that are being constructed in the town should be up and running next year, bringing more sales tax revenue in.
Oro Valley Police Officers Association President Dan Krueger said he was not familiar with the administrative needs of the department, but from the point of view of the officers, in the field he said he knows they could use the additional support the staff increases would provide.
"The call volume has gone up a lot over the years, but the number of bodies out on the street has not," he said. "The officers are definitely feeling stressed."
According to Sharp's requests, the No. 1 priority for the police department this year was to add a lead information technology and forensic technician.
The police department has seen an increased need for someone with computer expertise in the past year because of a rise in the number of computer-related child pornography cases.
Six computers, two additional hard drives and 30 CD-ROM discs were seized last year, whereas in the past an average of one computer a year had been seized.
The town has begun to deal with cases of Internet fraud, as well, and someone who specializes in preserving the evidence in these cases has become increasingly important.
Sharp said it takes someone with precise knowledge of how to clone hard drives and override password protections to gather evidence in these cases. One false move could delete files or compromise evidence that could be used in court to convict pornographers and identity thieves of these crimes.
But on a day-to-day basis, this position is even more vital to the department, Sharp said.
Of 230 computers in use by town employees, 100 are used by the police department. This position would have helped keep up with the demands of staff for computer assistance, Sharp said. Currently, one detective with computer expertise takes care of the department's needs.
And it doesn't stop at computers. Pretty much anything with a computer chip requires attention at some point, and the police department has lots of items with chips in them, including the radios in all of the cars and motorcycles.
Also included among new staffing requests was the addition of two full-time officers to create a DUI Enforcement detail. The request was estimated at a cost of $137,000 for the two salaries and benefits packages, as well as an equipped vehicle.
According to information compiled by the department, Oro Valley had 50 percent more DUI-related collisions in 2003 than in 2004. Sharp said that, because of an increase in overall calls to the department, DUI officers are being taken away from their duties to support patrol officers. Because of this "reallocation of resources," there were 37 percent fewer DUI arrests made in 2004 than in the previous year.
In a survey of citizens recently completed by the police department, in which 300 residents responded, traffic safety and DUIs were rated among Oro Valley's top concerns.
Sharp also wishes to create full-time traffic enforcement by requesting the addition of six officers, which would cost the town $372,000 - $295,000 of that in annual salaries. (That request also will be put off until next year.)
Traffic officers also assist patrolling officers when calls are received and answered. On average, 82 calls per month would normally be handled by patrol if there were more staff, according to department data.
Sharp said this has created a problem in the town, in which traffic has become a secondary concern, evidenced by a 12 percent drop in traffic citations from 2003 to 2004. In the same timeframe, collisions went up 13 percent, according to department records.
The objective of having a traffic detail is to "maintain safe roadways through high profile traffic enforcement, elevated visibility at high collision intersections, speed enforcement, investigation of collisions and response to traffic complaints of citizens," according to written justification for the request submitted to the town manager by Sharp. Upon studying the trends for collisions in town, the number of accidents is expected to reach 570 in 2005, which is a 98 percent increase from five years ago.
But, Sharp said, based on current staffing levels, the town must be reactive to these collisions by addressing them when they happen instead of being proactive in driver education and high visibility.
Despite the programs that are not being recommended for approval this year, Sharp said the department will be getting a lot of what it's asking for.
An increase in the training budget is being recommended to the council for approval, and Sharp said it is something he is happy with. He said the training budget "went up significantly for a maintenance year" from $40,000 to $59,000. The money will be used to make sure staff members keep their certifications current, and will not be used for any new training.
When Sharp joined the department, about $25,000 a year was spent on training. That first year, he requested an increase to $65,000, but got $40,000. Since then, that line item has stayed the same as the number of staff members has steadily grown.
Half of the new vehicles requested this year have been approved as part of the Capital Improvement Projects program to replace old ones in the department's fleet. The department will get 11 new vehicles this year, seven patrol vehicles and four unmarked cars.
The police department puts hard miles on its cars and motorcycles, and Sharp said it is important to keep those vehicles in top shape.
"The cost to maintain a fleet as it ages is a lot," Sharp said. "We need the cars to be as safe as they can possibly be. We can't cut corners there."
New technology, including some new computers and a system for copying surveillance video, also has been approved.
Sharp added that new staff was approved for the department last year, including three police lieutenants. This marked the first time the department was able to have middle management in place in more than a decade.
Although the recommended budget does not include staffing increases for the department, the town council sets the final budget and could choose to fund some or all of Sharp's requests. The council was scheduled to discuss the police budget recommendations at a May 16 study session.
Councilman Terry Parish, a Pima County Sheriff's Department deputy, said not having any of the 17.5 new police positions recommended to the council is a concern to him that he would like to address during upcoming budget sessions.
"Oro Valley is getting larger, and we have an obligation to provide quality services throughout the town," he said.
Parish said he thinks finding and hiring so many qualified police department employees will take more than one year, and he hopes the new positions can be phased in over time, without the payroll increase having to be reflected entirely in this year's budget.
"I think it's a great idea and something we should wholeheartedly support," he said of the proposed new programs being requested by Sharp. "My hope is the rest of the council will see the importance."
Parish said having visibility in the community is one of the key ways to keep crimes from occurring. Without a high enough officer-per-resident ratio, the visibility decreases and crimes increase.
"The problem with crimes is once it comes here you can't get it out, you can't play catch up," he said.
Parish said the chief should "be applauded for taking steps to be proactive."
"He sees what's coming, the growth of the town, the shopping centers that are already being built," he said of Sharp. "He knows it's going to take additional patrols to keep people safe."
Councilwoman Helen Dankwerth said she understands Sharp's wish to remain proactive, and said she does not believe the department had realistic expectations of getting all of its staffing requests this year.
She said she thinks the council needs to settle on a number of new positions that is proportionate to the population the town has now and increase police staff as the population increases.
She said she knows the police department is trying to plan for the future, especially for incoming shopping centers, but she said those centers will not be finished for some time, and it would be better to wait to authorize new hires.
Dankwerth agreed with Sweet that decisions to create new staff positions must be particularly scrutinized because the positions are recurring expenses, which the town must be sure it has sustainable revenue to pay for.