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Columbia Missourian

Council to vote on how to fund 7 police vacancies

January 6, 2008 | 6:22 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — With seven positions unfilled in the Columbia Police Department, the City Council will hear a report at its Monday meeting on police staffing levels and vote on financing for the hiring of officers to fill those positions.

In the past, the department has had enough officers to keep up with Columbia’s growth in development and population. But recently, it has faced challenges in recruiting qualified officers.

“We are finding new ideas or new ways to recruit candidates,” Chief Randy Boehm said. “We are constantly looking for another college or university with a criminal justice program.”

In order to hire new officers, though, the department needs the council to provide additional funding. Its members will vote on whether to funnel $100,000 in cable franchise fees to the department for the hiring of additional police officers.

Mayor Darwin Hindman strongly supports the use of funds to speed up the process of hiring the officers.

“The public expects us to work to fill those vacancies, and we should,” Hindman said.

At this point, Boehm said he thinks the bill may be a moot point given that City Manager Bill Watkins gave a go-ahead for all departments to fill vacancies last week.

Hindman said he disagrees.

“It’s not a moot point,” Hindman said. “We still need to be able to fund it.”

Meanwhile, there are some council members who are opposed to how the council would fund hiring additional police officers.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala opposes the use of the cable franchise fees. In the past, he has said the fees should go to their original purpose of funding the city’s beleaguered public access and government channels. Skala wants the council to use its discretionary funds to pay for the hires.

Efforts to reach several council members were unsuccessful.

Funding additional officers is not the only issue at Monday’s meeting. The city manager’s office submitted a report on the past and current police staffing levels.

The report compares Columbia with other cities in Missouri as well as 10 cities that are home to Big 12 Conference schools over a period from 2002 and 2008.

In towns where the population is larger and the land area more spread out, it takes more officers to patrol the streets, the report said.

In 2002, 1,281 officers were hired for the department covering the nearly 232 square miles that make up Austin, Texas, which was home to 663,839 people. That works out to roughly five police officers per square mile.

Meanwhile, Columbia had 136 officers deployed over 53.3 square miles with a population of 86,391 people during that same year, meaning there were 2.5 officers per square mile.

As Columbia’s borders continue to expand, Mayor Hindman said he had a positive outlook on the police department’s capabilities for the future.

“As Columbia continues to grow at roughly the same pace, we’ll be able to keep up,” Hindman said.