Quincy police force grows to 20 officers
Three young police officers who will begin patrolling the city’s streets this summer say they each have their own reason for wanting to work for the Quincy Police Department.
For Austin Key, working in Quincy is a chance to have a career where he grew up. The Ephrata native wants to live and work in the Quincy Valley, a place he knows well.
For Brittney Hislop, who will be the department’s second female officer and one of only four female officers in the county, she sees moving to Quincy as a way to return to her roots. Both her parents are in public service and she’s from a rodeo family. Hislop would like to eventually buy land in Eastern Washington.
And for James Peterson, the young father noticed immediately how family oriented the small town department is. The police chief talks about family a lot, which is important to Peterson.
“It was a good feeling,” he said of coming to Quincy.
With the recent hiring of Key, Hislop and Peterson, the total number of commissioned officers employed by the local department stands at 20. That’s the largest number of officers the police department has ever employed.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs shows the per capita ratio of law enforcement officers to residents has been on a downward trend in cities across the state for at least the past five years. The 2013 state average of commissioned officers is at 1.25 officers per 1,000 people, down from 1.4 in 2008, according to the WASPC.
But that trend doesn’t apply to Quincy.
At 16 commissioned officers in 2013, Quincy averaged 2.28 officers per 1,000 people. At the time, Quincy had the second largest ratio of officers to residents in cities with 5,000 to 10,000 people, according to WASPC figures. It was behind only Union Gap, which had a ratio of 2.62 in 2013.
With 20 officers, Quincy will average about 2.8 officers per 1,000 people.
Much of the growth in the department has come in the most recent years. In 2005, the department had 10 commissioned officers and operated on a budget of $875,000. The city had 5,265 residents in 2005, according to WASPC.
Today, the department operates on a budget of $2.4 million, of which about $1.8 million is in salaries and benefits, according to the city. The city today has about 7,242 residents, according to the U.S. Census.
Broken down, the local department has a police chief, two sergeants, two detectives (one detective is dedicated to the Grant County Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team) and 15 patrol officers. The 15 officers include two school resource officers; however, the school district pays the base salary of one SRO.
Of the 15 patrol officers, six are attending the police academy in Burien, completing a 20-week professional training course. Two of those recruits will be back in Quincy in April. All will graduate by July, when the department will be at full patrol.
How do you know when you have enough officers for your community?
That’s a question the Quincy City Council is expected to touch upon at its March 31 retreat, Mayor Jim Hemberry said. The answer may help determine how the department grows in the future, Hemberry said.
As mayor, his goal has been to provide the best police protection the city can afford, said Hemberry.
A police officer costs about $100,000 a year, which includes salary and benefits, Hemberry said. In Quincy, officer salaries are paid by money generated through property taxes, which are traditionally more stable than other revenues, such as sales tax. The city also has been able to add officers through a federal community policing grant program that paid for two officers’ salaries for three years.
Hemberry is “fairly confident” the city will look at adding a sergeant and a detective in the near future.
Basing police protection on population may not be an accurate gauge for Quincy; however, basing protection on crime rates may be a better indicator, the mayor said.
For example, neighboring Ephrata currently has 14 commissioned officers and a population of 7,959 people. It has a crime rate of 84.1 crimes committed per 1,000 people, according to the WASPC.
While Quincy has less residents, it has a crime rate of 99 crimes per 1,000 people, according to the WASPC.
Police Chief Bob Heimbach likes to consider a third alternative when measuring how many officers a community should have. He’s interested in how the public feels.
“Are they happy?” Heimbach asked. “Are people satisfied with the product they are seeing?”
When he was hired in 2013, the city council stressed it wanted a more functional, friendly relationship between its police department and community, Heimbach said. And that means having enough officers to not only patrol the streets but also to build a relationship with the community and work on crime prevention, he said.
“We’re kind of remodeling the department in terms of how we do our police work and how we interact with our citizens,” he said. “This community wants us to be accessible.”
With more officers, the Quincy police must work hard not to become an “occupying force,” where the citizens feel as if the police department is bigger than the community, Heimbach said.
“That’s not what they hired me for,” he said. “We don’t need to be an occupying force but a part of the community.”
This community policing philosophy, combined with some highly educated recruits, has resulted in a more professional department, Hemberry said. On top of that, Quincy is able to provide equipment for their officers that other small towns might not be able to afford, he added.
With the added officers, both Hemberry and Heimbach would like to bring back bike and foot patrols the city had in the early 1990s. Foot patrols would be conducted mostly in the downtown corridor.
“It’s good for the officers and it’s good for the public,” Hemberry said.
The police department also will put more of an emphasis on growing the Neighborhood Watch program, Hemberry said.
“I’m excited for what this year will bring,” Heimbach said.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, firstname.lastname@example.org