ROCKVILLE –Acting City Police Chief Bob Rappoport says the municipal police department needs more money to retain staff and add police officers to help with schools, traffic enforcement, criminal investigations and preventing street crimes.
“Well, the first thing we have to do is maintain our staff. With retirements and resignations, it’s always an ongoing battle to maintain our staff,” said Rappoport, noting department officials can “look ahead to the future” but need to “fill what’s open” before expanding staff.
“So, the first thing we want to do is make sure we have enough staffing on the streets and that it’s adequate.
And the second thing would be to staff up our traffic units,” said Rappoport. “We get numerous traffic complaints.”
Earlier this summer, the city Police Department received full accreditation for the next four years from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement agencies, marking the seventh time the city’s police received the designation in 22 years.
Rappoport, a 28-year city police officer who took over the top role in an interim role following the retirement of long-time Chief Terry Treschuk, said he would like to add one additional police officer for each of the School Resource Officer, traffic, criminal investigation and street crime units, though not all at once.
“I’m not saying four officers over the next four years; I’m saying that I’m looking at different staffing options,” said Rappoport.
The problem with bringing in four new cops all at once is it takes three police officers to train each of them during a 14-to-16-week period.
He said instead what would be more manageable is if the City Council authorized funds for one or two additional police officers each year.
Meanwhile, the city does have more money than required in its reserve fund, with more than $17 million reported March 31.
The City Council requires the reserve fund to be 20 percent of the size of the city’s General Fund. The reserve fund, as of March, stood at about 22 percent of the size of the General Fund.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton has long pushed for adding more police officer to the municipal department and voted against raising the reserve minimum from 15 percent to 20 percent of the size of the general fund, calling the higher number an arbitrary designation.
The city’s chief financial officer Gavin Cohen said in financial report earlier this year that the general fund reserve requirement increased from 15 percent to 20 percent in late Fiscal Year 2015, “in conjunction with the decrease in the Debt Service Fund reserve requirement.”
“There is absolutely no reason to have money sitting there above the city’s required reserve,” said Newton, later adding, “Why force an artificial number on the city… and then turn around and say, ‘You can’t meet your public safety needs?’”
Treschuk told the City Council April 25 he specifically did not ask for more police officers in the FY ’17 budget because he asked for money for the body camera and in-car camera programs.
After losing nine officers due to pay issues, Treschuk also noted “how hard it is to bring people on board,” saying it takes 18 to 24 months of training, with incentives needed for retaining staff.
“Maybe by September, October, we’ll have all the officers back on the street again,” said Treschuk.
Newton called for a bottom-up approach to crafting the FY ’18 budget, with department leaders working directly with the City Council much earlier in the budget crafting process compared to the FY ’17 budget.
“What has been happening for the last few years is by the time the proposed budget get to the mayor and council, a lot of what the department initiated proposals have been dropped and I think that the better way to serve both citizens, businesses and provide the services we want is to have a more bottom-up approach so that when we’re making decisions, we know exactly what the experts in the department propose,” she said.
Council member Virginia Onley said she would vote in the FY ’18 budget “to do what’s necessary” to help the police department.
Onley called the SRO a “pretty important position” and said adding a second one is an issue worth examining by City Council members.
“If it’s going to take more money in the FY ’18 budget, then we’re really going to have to figure out how we can make this happen,” said Onley.
When it comes to using the reserve though, Onley said that “might” be the solution, adding that “it all boils down to careful budgeting and careful planning.”
Two weeks ago, Council member Mark Pierzchala said the FY ‘18 budget should include room for expanding the police force.
There are 59 sworn police officers on staff within the city with once vacancy, according to Rappoport.
One of them serves as the city’s school resource officer (SRO): Cpl. Rick Halverson.
Halverson splits his time between Richmond Montgomery High School, Rockville High School and Julius West Middle School, according to Rappoport, while Montgomery County police provide SROs at other schools in the city.
While Rappoport said it would be “ideal” for there to be one city police officer per city school, adding even one SRO would help the police department to “build those community liaisons and interactions for school youth.”
Developing relationships and trust with students is an important part of community policing, according to the acting police chief.
“I totally agree with him,” said Newton. “And, plain in fact, one of the most proven ways to stop issues that are appearing in our schools is by having an SRO that the students trust and have a relationship with, that they can go to or (the SRO) can see what’s going on.”
According to Rappoport, adding more city SROs could help out the Montgomery County Police Department.
“Montgomery County does have SROs at those schools but they definitely would be able to redeploy those officers at different schools in the county,” said Rappoport.
On days when Halverson is away from the schools, Rappoport said if there are issues, school officials can contact the police department or call 911 directly.
“Pretty much no one picks up the void,” said Rappoport, later adding, “Whereas if we had two SROs, we could always get the second SRO to back-fill as needed.”
He explained the second SRO would be someone already within the department with a Police Officer III rank, so the officer has at least three years of experience with the city police.
Rappoport said the police could then recruit a new officer to fill that officer’s vacancy.
“We would bring on an officer at entry level and then we would recruit an experienced officer to go through the SRO program,” he said.
An entry-level police officer earned an annual salary of $58,410, according to Rappoport, while a certified first-year officer who completed training at a police academy, earns $61,925.
Away from schools, Rappoport said some of the department’s patrol teams are just short of their ideal numbers.
“We typically have about seven or eight officers on a patrol teams but because of retirements or resignations, we’ve had to backfill the patrol teams with some of our specialty unit personnel,” he said.
As an example, he cited taking officers away from the traffic or street crime units and putting them on patrol.
Newton said she backed the idea of the acting police chief for the city to prioritize retaining and adding police officers.
“I fully support what Bob Rappoport is saying and I think if we do our budget process a little differently, we would be better able to answer those concerns,” said Newton.