By Annie Andrews email@example.com
Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek said he's locked and loaded, 100 percent behind beefing up the Police Department by nearly a million dollars per year.
The Grand Island City Council heard from Police Chief Steve Lamken Tuesday night about recommended improvements to the department. Those improvements include five new police officers, to be hired by December 1, hiring a crime analyst, adding five community service officers, and evidence technician by 2014.
Those additions come with a hefty price tag, $770,000 for this year with more than a million dollars required for each of the subsequent three years. The council agreed it was a lot of money, but with an already $8 million dollar annual budget, the Mayor remarked it wasn't astronomical.
The proposal is part of a public safety study that was released three months ago. The study was intended to look at the quality, efficiency and the department's ability to respond to crime. That study said the Grand Island Police Department is overtaxed and under staffed.
Council members Dugan, Niemann and Gilbert spoke in favor of the improvements. Niemann said the recommendations need to happen swiftly and proposed bumping up the schedule from four years to three. He gave personal accounts of property damage, saying his own garage was broken into twice in less than a month's time. He said the town has a crime problem and reputation, but didn't blame Lamken. It was a sentiment shared by Council President Peg Gilbert. She went on the record saying while traveling to different parts of the state, she often hears that "Grand Island's image is not good," based solely on crime. She said the city needs to have a "culture change" that will come with increased enforcement, saying people think they can get away with crime because no one is watching.
Council member Nickerson did question the amount of funds recommended by the study. He asked Chief Lamken "in his heart of hearts" if it was possible to make an impact without all of the improvements suggested. Lamken said in order to get to the level of crime reduction and moving towards a proactive instead of reactive force the improvements would be needed. He went on to say however, his commitment to keep Grand Island safe does not change: "I'll police with 50 officers and I'll police with 100" it just might not meet resident's expectation.
The Grand Island Police Department force sits at 77 police officers.