Study Gives CPD High Grades, Finds $1.3-Million in Cost Savings
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - "This is really a very well-managed Police Department," said Travis Miller, Vice President of Matrix Consulting Group, whose organization recently concluded an efficiency study of the Clearwater Police Department. The $107,000 study of CPD had been commissioned by the City Council late last year as an alternative to a zero-based budgeting exercise that would have reevaluated every dollar spent by each city department, including CPD.
While CPD's management systems were praised by Miller, the study did reveal several opportunities to improve the department's efficiency that, if implemented would save just over $1.3-million from CPD's budget that amounted to $37-million in 2008/09.
The most significant savings, totaling $660,000 annually, involves eliminating the 10-hour per day work schedule that enables some police officers to enjoy 3-day weekends. The schedule change would allow the city to reduce its police officer ranks by 9 positions according to the Matrix report. "There's some fairly significant opportunity out there for you to maintain the same exact service level that you're providing, but just shifting to an 8-hour deployment plan," Miller said.
Any proposed changes in officer work schedules can expect scrutiny from the police union, but CPD Officer John Walser, president of the Clearwater chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), was out of town this week and unavailable for comment.
Clearwater's Human Resources Director Joe Roseto said this week of the recommended schedule change, "The issue will be; can we change that without bargaining?" Roseto said that under normal circumstances, changing work schedules is a right of management, but that the union may have a different perspective. The city's contract with the FOP expires on October 1, and collective bargaining is set to begin soon according to Roseto.
The next largest savings would come from the elimination of the Beach Walk Community Policing team. Matrix found that Beach Walk could be patrolled with existing personnel assigned to District 1 Patrol, saving $311,679 annually. CPD headcount would be reduced by 3 police officers and 1 sergeant in an area that is the focal point of Clearwater's tourism industry.
City Manager Bill Horne explained that the Beach Walk unit was established as a deterrent to panhandling, thefts on the beach and drinking. Councilmember Paul Gibson pointed out that the beach is the only area of the city with an increasing population, largely a result of new hotel openings. He said "I think we're looking at increasing demand for policing on the beach as we move into the future, rather than a decrease."
With projected savings of $220,279 annually, the reduction of 3 officers from CPD's downtown bicycle team is the third largest cost-cutting recommendation made by Matrix, who called the 7 officers currently assigned to the unit "excessive".
The unit was recently increased from 5 to 7 officers with funding provided by Clearwater's Downtown CRA. Duggan Cooley, President of the East Gateway Business and Neighbors Association, opposes the reduction. He cited the recent drug and prostitution arrests in the area and said that the bicycle unit "has done an excellent job trying to clean it up. If we want to continue the progress, we really, really need the strong presence of the Clearwater Police Department in the neighborhood."
The East Gateway association is preparing a resolution for presentation to the City Council, thanking them for the recent addition of 2 officers to the bike patrol, and asking that the staffing level not be reduced. The Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition board of directors agreed, and voted unanimously in opposition to the proposed reduction in the downtown bike unit, claiming that it would have an adverse impact on the residents and businesses in the area.
All told, the Matrix recommendations would reduce CPD staffing by 17 officers. "I'm not suggesting we do that," said Police Chief Sid Klein. While he agreed with the recommended 8-hour work schedule, Klein asked the Council to retain the 17 positions Matrix proposed for elimination; "We'll be much more efficient with the utilization of that manpower, and I think as we have more demands in the future, the same level of manpower will be essential to maintain," he said.
"My intention is to implement as many of these [recommendations] as possible, because that's what my focus is," said Horne, "My focus is to bring you a budget that will balance. In those areas where we think we can still get the job done with less cost, that's the direction I'm going to go."
The Council is scheduled to discuss and take action on the Matrix recommendations at their May 21st meeting.
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