Copley: Ten more officers critically needed to rescue ‘drowning’ police department

Copley talks with aldermen

Quincy Police Chief Rob Copley, standing left, and Chuck Bevelheimer, director of planning and development, talk with 2nd Ward aldermen Dave Bauer, left seated, and Jeff Bergman after the conclusion of Monday's Quincy City Council meeting. | David Adam

QUINCY — Quincy Police Chief Rob Copley said his department is “drowning” and needs to hire 10 more officers during a Monday meeting in City Council chambers as aldermen reviewed the city’s proposed 2022-23 budget.

Chief Bernie Vahlkamp said the fire department is proposing a $12.9 million spending plan, a 5.48 percent increase over the current projected 2021-22 budget. Both Vahlkamp and Copley called the upcoming fiscal year “a year of rebuilding.”

Copley gave a breakdown of a proposed $15.33 million spending plan. It calls for a 10.7 percent increase over the current projected 2021-22 budget. The proposed budget list 73 officers — a police chief, two deputy chiefs and 70 patrol officers — to be on staff. The police department currently is down to 63 officers.

“Officers are working a lot of overtime right now. It’s mandated a lot of times,” Copley told aldermen. “We’re working bare-bone shifts, which means the community has to wait for us to get there on a priority basis. If we hire those 10 officers, we’ll be back to where we need to run (12-hour) shifts at a normal level.

“We are not at optimal strength without those 10 officers. We are drowning. Please understand. This is not 10 (officers) I’m asking for to make things better. This is to get us back up on our level where we can be so we’re not drowning.”

Police salaries, benefits scheduled to increase 7.88 percent

Personnel costs make up 89.74 percent of the department’s budget. They budgeted salaries and benefits to increase $1.005 million (up 7.88 percent) from last year. That also includes a 2.75 percent increase in union and non-union employee salaries that aldermen recently agreed upon and will go into effect May 1. Pay increases are not budgeted for Copley or Deputy Chiefs Adam Yates and Shannon Pilkington.

The budget also includes a full-funded police pension of $4.44 million.

Copley, who is resigning as chief next month, says the department needs a records supervisor and evidence custodian.

Also factoring into the overall budget increase are:

  • A 74 percent increase in fleet maintenance (from $189,243 to $353,680) because of the rise in fuel costs.
  • An 80 percent increase in workers’ compensation and liability insurance costs.
  • A 29 percent increase in training costs because of the addition of 10 new employees.

Copley says chances of filling 10 positions ‘really good’

Copley says the department actually has lost 14 officers since the beginning of the pandemic. The department replaced five. However, no officers have been hired for several months because no slots were unavailable for candidates to attend basic training. The 10th open slot is a patrolman who is retiring three days before Copley retires.

Aldermen asked Copley what the chances were that enough candidates were available to fill all available positions this year. “I think it’s really good,” he replied. 

Copley doesn’t believe hiring fewer than the 10 budgeted officers is an option.

“We can’t afford to make the changes that we would have to make if we permanently lost those spots,” Copley said. “Actually, you’re going to see (what it would be like) this summer as it ramps up. A lot of things are trending like they did in 2015, and 2015 was a bad year for us. It was a violent year. We were short-handed, we lost officers and we tried to police the violent areas. We had limited staffing, and people were working on overtime. 

“What we had to do (in 2015) is limit responses. If your gazing ball gets stolen, we’re not going to show up and take that report. We’re going to ask you to do it either by phone with a typist or go online and do it. We will show up as quick as we can if it’s an ongoing crime, if it’s a violent crime. A property crime, even though we will show up and investigate it when there’s evidence or suspects, it may not be right away. We have to prioritize crimes in progress and violent crimes versus taking your burglary from overnight, even though it may be solvable. We just can’t get to it as fast as you want.”

Vahlkamp wants two firefighters added for full staff

Copley said he felt confident the proposed budget would pass “rather unscathed.”

“In our meeting with city administration earlier this year, there was not a lot of concern,” he said.

Vahlkamp also wants his staff back at full strength. Only two firefighters are needed to get to the 57 that are budgeted. However, he likely can’t add the two firefighters until November because they can’t enroll in the training academy until September.

“(Adding two firefighters) lets met go back to 19 per shift,” he said. “That would make every shift equal and hopefully help cut down on overtime and then, of course, improve morale and the stress.”

Training and travel/lodging for training both saw significant increases, as did the cost of gas. The cost of clothing and uniforms increased more than $43,000. The department needs 14 sets of gear to replace aging gear.

Vahlkamp also budgeted more than $87,000 for building repairs. That includes replacement of light fixtures and windows, repair of the interior and exterior walls at Central Station and $31,000 to repair the parking lot at Central Station.

“Eight years ago, there’s a hydrant that runs behind the station, and when it froze in the wintertime and then thawed, the water main broke,” he said. “I was actually working, and I walked out there, and there’s water being pumped through the cracks in the concrete.”

Two more reviews of budget scheduled

Central Services Director Kevin McClean outlined his department’s needs in a $3.06 million budget that he called “relatively flat.” Jeffrey Conte, director of utilities and engineering, said the biggest needs in his $1.31 million spending plan are to add a staff engineer and replace two aging pickup trucks.

Quincy Mayor Mike Troup said after Monday’s City Council meeting he expected the increased fire and police budgets.

“Eighty-some-odd percent of our budgets are people, and we’ve got 2.75 percent increases, so there’s a cost,” he said. “We have to hire a couple of people here and there. A lot of the new people must be trained. Those are costs that if we can get a stable force for five or six years, some of those training costs will come down.”

Monday’s review was the first of three meetings scheduled before the budget goes before aldermen.

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