The Pequot Lakes Police Department may lose a full-time officer position, but in exchange the five current officers could get a pay raise.
The city council took up this discussion at its regular meeting Tuesday, July 6, after accepting officer Matt Jorgens’ resignation. Jorgens took a position with Crow Wing County.
After discussion, the council tabled until August any action on a police department request to replace Jorgens’ position with another full-time officer from within a pool of seven Pequot Lakes part-time officers.
Because Officer Kate Petersen is out on medical leave, Mayor Tyler Gardner suggested hiring for a temporary full-time position, but otherwise working with one less officer than the department has had.
The council is operating on a shoestring budget, wants to lower the city’s tax rate and wants to pay officers more, Gardner said.
City Administrator Rich Spiczka said he researched 34 police departments - 21 close to or above Pequot Lakes’ population and 13 smaller than Pequot Lakes - and only found one police department with more staff than Pequot Lakes, that being Crosby. Only one department had equal staff to Pequot Lakes, that being Breezy Point.
“Every other city is less than us in police department staff,” Spiczka said, adding he was talking about full-time staff that includes the chief, sergeant, officers and secretary. Many variables come into play, including that cities with schools usually have a school liaison officer, he said.
Gardner said it’s hard to cut back until an opportunity like a resignation occurs. The opportunity presented itself and the thought is to try it, he said.
"My biggest concern is the ability to find quality staff in the next 15-20 years, because of the state of police in the world right now. I favor less is more - pay quality people more to keep them."
— Pequot Lakes City Administrator, Rich Spiczka
Police Sgt. Ryan Franz said two of the department's seven part-time officers work regularly to cover Petersen’s shifts, and a couple others work for other area departments that are short-staffed.
He said when talking total full-time officers, Pequot Lakes has the same number as Breezy Point, Crosslake and Nisswa at six. One of Pequot Lakes’ six officers is a full-time school liaison officer during the school year.
Franz said officers are busy now with a call volume 20% higher than a year ago and one officer out. Being down two full-time officers could put the department in a bind, he said, adding the city could lose more part-time officers to other agencies with full-time openings.
The department has sought more part-time officers, but Crow Wing County and Brainerd are so short-staffed that even if Pequot Lakes gets part-time officers from those agencies, those officers have no time to work.
“My biggest concern is the ability to find quality staff in the next 15-20 years,” Spiczka said, because of the state of police in the world right now. “I favor less is more - pay quality people more to keep them.”
He’s had multiple requests for more pay, especially in the police department, Spiczka said.
Council members Pete Clement and Scott Pederson liked the idea of taking the time to better understand the big picture. In a month, the council will have more information to make long-term decisions as the budget process for 2022 will start. They advocated looking at all options before making a decision.
Gardner acknowledged that a drawback of not filling the position and instead using part-time officers is that the city risks losing those officers to another job.
Pederson said Chief Eric Klang may have to increase the time he patrols. Franz said Klang already does that to help cover shifts.
Council member Cheri Seils was absent July 6.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.