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East Grand Forks police department personnel shortage carries into new year

A number of current and potential openings at the East Grand Forks Police Department has its chief seeking permission to start another hiring process.

A number of current and potential openings at the East Grand Forks Police Department has its chief seeking permission to start another hiring process.

Through a number of circumstances, the department could be left with up to six openings - a gap that would weigh heavily on the 22-officer department.

Staffing shortages in 2014 led the department to spend double the $100,000 budgeted for overtime pay.

Police Chief Mike Hedlund told East Grand Forks City Council members on Tuesday he wants to avoid that this year.

"We're trying to minimize overtime costs as best we can," Hedlund said. "We've had an avalanche of special circumstances this past year that have dug us a hole and we're trying to get out as soon as we can."

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Recommendations

Hedlund brought two recommendations before the council during its Tuesday work session.

One would give the police department the ability to start another hiring process for officers soon, if it is needed.

If qualified candidates aren't found or still available when other positions come open, Hedlund said he wants to minimize the delay of getting another hiring process started.

The department's current hiring process is in the midst of backgrounding four candidates for two current openings. The number of openings will increase in the coming months when planned retirements and a grant-funded school resource officer position are considered.

The hiring process for police officers is lengthy as candidates must pass an exam to be added to a department's hiring roster.

Those that make it on the roster have to pass a number of medical, psychological and background checks. After that, job training can take as long as 16 weeks.

The second recommendation would allow another officer to move into a position that includes secretary, dispatcher and jailer duties while still maintaining status as an officer to fill in on overtime shifts. If the switch is approved, that opens another officer position, Hedlund said.

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Both recommendations will move forward to the council's Jan. 20 for a final vote.

Overtime dilemma

In the meantime, the department will still be logging overtime.

A majority of the overtime problem stems from the city's minimum staffing policy for police officers, according to Hedlund.

"That's where 95 percent of the issue is," he said.

On a typical day, two officers are required to be on duty at a time. If they need to oversee a special event such as a parade, that number increases.

The minimum staffing requirement will likely be tackled by the council at a later date. Council member Clarence Vetter said the council should look at the minimal staff policy and adjust it to avoid another overtime problem.

He also proposed taking a look at potential staff cuts throughout the city.

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"I think we just need to be prudent in looking at all our staffing," Vetter said. "When we start budgeting again that's where we're going to have to end up cutting."

Related Topics: PUBLIC SAFETY
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