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Fuhr seeks additional officers for MLPD

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | May 25, 2023 4:45 PM

MOSES LAKE — Moses Lake Police Chief Kevin Fuhr is asking the city council to consider adding up to $1 million to the police department’s annual budget to hire as many as six new officers, citing the department’s workload.

“We run six officers per shift per crew and any given time, but with education and training, simply we average between four and five officers at any given that are working,” Fuhr told members of the Moses Lake city council on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, we are busy enough that four or five officers just doesn’t cut it anymore,” added the chief, who is also interim city manager.

The chief told the council that on Monday two major calls involving firearms kept the on-duty shift of five officers completely occupied for an extended period of time, adding that no one else was available to cover anything else in the city. It doesn’t help, Fuhr added, Capt. David Sands, who is the Moses Lake Police Department’s interim chief, is working a graveyard shift because the MLPD’s night crew is currently down to three officers.

Sands added the MLPD is moving day-shift officers around to make sure the city is adequately covered in the run-up to SpringFest and the Memorial Day Weekend.

Fuhr submitted figures to the council outlining the estimated costs of adding six additional officers to the Moses Lake Police Department in 2024, including $651,000 for salaries and benefits and an additional $343,000 for training and equipment, including three new police cars. The costs would only be partially covered by the city’s portion of the countywide 0.3% sales tax to support law enforcement, Fuhr said, and would need an additional council appropriation.

“This is something that we need to start looking at, meeting the needs of the community,” he said.

Council members were generally supportive, especially since they had just voted to tighten enforcement of the city’s parking ordinances. For 2023, the city council budgeted $11.4 million for the MLPD, including $7.6 million for salaried and benefits.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” said Council Member Mark Fancher. “I would much rather enforce what we have knowing it’s going to come at a cost, and the cost of law enforcement is trying to make our community safer.”

“Do we want to find the money first and then make a decision? Or do we make a decision?” asked Council Member Dave Skaug.

Fuhr said he would need to talk with city officials about revenue projections for 2024. However, the chief also said that while it takes time to do extensive background investigations and evaluations of all police officer candidates, there aren’t any slots open in any of the state’s law enforcement training academies until December.

“Just know, it’s six months before we can even get them into an academy class,” he said.

Fuhr said there is a list of 30 people who have expressed an interest in becoming MLPD officers, including a handful of local residents. The chief said he prefers to train local residents from the beginning because officers who transfer in from other departments, especially smaller departments, are often times shocked by MLPD’s workload.

“We’ve had laterals sign up and they realize how many calls that they would have to be responsible for, and they said it’s not worth it,” Fuhr said. “They have no idea. When you leave Ephrata, you’re handling 200-300 calls per year, and you come here and you’re over 1,000.”

“I like the philosophy,” Council Member Dustin Swartz said. “If they don’t work anywhere else, they don’t really know how hard they’re working, right?”

Fuhr said he would talk with city finance officials and come back to the council at its next meeting with more solid figures on what the city can afford.

Mayor Don Myers said the proposal is in line with the council’s priority of reducing crime throughout the city.

“I think this goes toward fulfilling that priority,” Myers said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald

The Moses Lake Police Department. MLPD Chief Kevin Fuhr is asking the city council to find the money to hire as many as six additional officers beginning in 2024.