SUNNYSIDE – Protecting the health and safety of nearly 16,500, residents is a multifaceted, non-stop operation.
Police Chief Al Escalera understands the intricate nuances and evolving demands of keeping Sunnyside safe.
Escalera, like his city department head colleagues, is preparing for the upcoming, annual budget process. In this process officials prioritize their departments’ requirements and presents them, along with their proposed total budget, for deliberation and approval.
Sheer math is a main driver this year for the Police Department budget prioritization process.
According to Escalera, a combination of current staff vacancies (3), coupled with the number of staff who have met the test for retirement at any time (12), out of a staff of 29 commissioned and eight support staff, is not a number he can be comfortable with.
Staffing strategies includes many numbers of variables. There are position openings, staff out on various types of leave, but returning at different points in time, with the understanding the unexpected will occur and other staff will also need to use leave.
As with any department, staff have opportunities with larger, better paying departments and can move on with two weeks’ notice. Of the 12 who are eligible to retire, they can give notice any day, but usually will provide a 30-day notice.
Couple these fluid staffing factors with a static 24/7 scheduling. Shifts must be filled continuously, there can be no gaps in coverage to safely provide protection for Sunnyside residents and its officers.
According to Escalera, staffing must unfailingly be adequate for safety with emphasis on Friday and Saturday night coverage.
The complex factor in running a quality, budget-conscious police personnel operation is the long game of hiring. Employing a commissioned officer can take a full year, from hiring date to being street qualified and ready.
This is where the strategy of personnel gets complicated. Officer vacancies can occur within two weeks, but officer replacements can take up to a full 12 months.
The law requires specific amounts of interviews, screenings, trainings and certifications for officers. These mandatory hiring requirements, using basic math, will most likely create staffing gaps which can only be filled by current staff and overtime.
The ideal solution to this hiring gap, Escalera reported, is to over hire or increase the level of replacement staff in the hiring queue.
Waiting to start the hiring process until someone leaves, means finding more costly ways to fill a commissioned vacancy for nearly a year, thus creating continuous overtime.
If additional staff could be hired and started through the lengthy process, gaps between leaving and starting would be reduced and staffing costs would become more stable, predictable and manageable.