Chief: PD met most objectives in 2003

Police department's community policing paying off, chief says

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Community policing and officer training were two things that ranked high on the Craig Police Department's list of 2003 priorities, and they're two things department officials are proud of when they list their accomplishments for the last year.

"I am extremely pleased to report that members of the department accomplished well over 87 percent of the 2003 objectives," Police Chief Walt Vanatta said.

The department's annual report measures every aspect of the department's services.

Vanatta reported that the department met 85 percent of its community partnership objectives. Those included bilingual education for officers, the establishment of two Neighborhood Watch programs and the start of the Business Protection Program in partnership with the Craig Chamber of Commerce.

The department also met 80 percent of its youth objectives, which included revising the teen safety belt program, establishing plans to form a CrimeStoppers program at the high school, teaching a junior detective program and partnering with the Moffat County Sheriff's Department to host a youth fishing day at the Public Safety Center pond.

As part of its community service activities, the police department responded to 2,175 animal control complaints -- a 3 percent increase over 2002. Of those, 788 animals were impounded.

"We do everything we can to get them spayed or neutered," Vanatta said.

In addition, Vanatta applauded the efforts of the Craig Intermediate School Lifesavers, which resulted in 31 percent of the impounded animals being adopted -- more than the 29 percent that were euthanized.

The cost to the police department for boarding the animals was $21,435.

The police department spent a large portion of its budget -- $91,939 -- on officer training.

"Training is a critical element in maintaining a progressive, professional and competent police department," Vanatta said. "Law enforcement is constantly faced with lawsuits that are directly based on training or a failure to train."

In 1992, the department developed a comprehensive training needs assessment. More than 40 basic areas were identified. Officers spent a total of 2,356 hours in training in 2003 -- an average of 84 hours per employee.

Training also accounted for 24 percent of the police department's overtime expenditures.

"Training continues to be our largest consumer of overtime," Vanatta said. "This is a direct reflection of the amount to time dedicated to maintaining the required certifications -- CPR, First-Aid, firearms -- and enhancing existing skill areas.

The department's total overtime costs were down in 2003, and were at the lowest point since 1999. The department logged fewer than 500 hours of overtime.

Training, "off-duty" security services, court appearances, paperwork associated with late arrests and meetings account for a majority of the overtime hours. About 10 percent of the overtime is attributed to a manpower shortage, something Vanatta said is likely to get worse because there are no plans to fill the next patrol officer position that opens.

The police department is running one person over its budgeted number of personnel because Cpl. Brian Soper is serving in Iraq, and the police department is subsidizing his military pay. In his absence, another patrol officer was hired. After Soper returns, the first patrol officer position that is vacated will stay vacated. Since Soper works primarily in administration, that leaves the department short a patrol officer.

Still, Vanatta said the department hasn't hit a point where it is more cost-effective to hire another officer. Even if it was, he said that would not eliminate a majority of the overtime need.

Vanatta said goals for 2004 include continuing with the department's existing community-based strategic plan and beginning implementation of the revised plan, which is in the works now and will take the department through 2008.

"I'm excited about the future of the Craig Police Department," Vanatta said. "As community policing practices become more ingrained into our way of life, we will have an even larger positive impact on the quality of life in Craig."

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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