MORRISON – Morrison Police Chief Brian Melton hopes voters realize he needs some help.
When the polls open April 2 for the municipal elections, Morrison voters will find a referendum on their ballots asking them to approve giving the city the authority to increase the available police levy to a rate not to exceed .225 percent of the value of all the taxable property in the municipality.
The additional money is desperately needed, Melton said, to help the police department add an officer to help with the workload the department is facing. Currently there are six officers and himself that make up the staff of a police department in a city with a population of about 4,100.
“More than 10 years ago there was a study done on staffing levels and we were way understaffed then. That study recommended 10 officers,” Melton said. “Times have changed and there’s a bigger demand on the police department.”
For example, crime is up but so is the number of service calls the department has to respond to at any given time, he said. It’s also the time of year when calls to the department go up, as they always do when warmer weather arrives, which will have far-reaching effects on the department.
“We welcome the good weather but we hope it doesn’t bring a bigger demand on us,” Melton said.
That’s because as the call load increases, other areas of the department have to suffer because there are only so many hours in the day.
“Investigations are slow at times and when everyone in the police department is wearing a uniform and out on the street, it’s difficult to follow up on investigations,” Melton said. “[With another officer] they can be more effective.”
He added that calls to the police department go up about an average of 5 percent each year, but it’s the number of cases the officers must deal with that is concerning with such a small staff.
“The case volume is up 27 percent and those cases are crimes that have to be investigated,” Melton said. “We’re really getting hit hard there. It’s beyond challenging for a small department to handle that without additional staffing.”
City Administrator Barry Dykhuizen said Morrison officials have even done research into other area police departments to see how they compare as far as staff numbers. The answer isn’t a favorable one for Morrison.
“We have the smallest number of officers per capita that we’ve seen in the northern part of the state,” he said. “There are communities smaller than us that have more officers. We’re running really lean in police staffing, so we’re asking voters to consider the merit of adding an additional officer.”
The cost of adding another police officer would be at the most $77,000, which factors in 14 weeks of training, equipment and salary, Melton said. If the referendum is passed, Melton said he hopes that a new officer could be on duty by the fall.