Law Board discusses director search, approves 2019 RCPD budget

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The Riley County Law Board approved the 2019 Riley County Police Department budget at their meeting in Manhattan City Hall on Monday.

The board voted 6 to 1 to approve the $797,000 increase from 2018 to a total budget of about $21.5 million for the year 2019. Riley County Commissioner Ben Wilson was the sole dissenter. The board had approved a draft that raised the 2019 budget to $21.6 million at a previous meeting, but approved this slightly smaller draft instead. That previously approved budget also included provisions for three new correctional officers which was not initially included in the smaller, approved draft.

Manhattan City Commissioner Usha Reddi favored the draft because she said RCPD has underspent on personnel budgets for the past few years and didn’t need as much of an increase as was proposed in the earlier draft. In 2017, the board budgeted $12,367,000 while RCPD only spent $11,462,000. In 2016, they budgeted $11,886,000 while RCPD only spent $11,174,000. In 2015, they budgeted $11,651,000 while RCPD only spent $10,845,000. That’s an excess of at least $600,000 per year.

“If you have over half a million dollars each of those years and we’re looking at 13 million [dollars]when the 12 million wasn’t even met, I think we have to stop and take a look at why we’re doing it,” said Reddi.

Reddi said in light of this, they should be able to afford the additional corrections officers in the smaller budget, which is only smaller by about $100,000. She said it’s time to be more frugal in light of the city’s budget situation, which has an upcoming revenue issue to deal with.

“I’m not saying cut anybody or anything of that sort,” Reddi said. “What I’m saying is we can reallocate the same personnel moneys that we have to take care of the three correctional officers that’s been requested.”

Manhattan Mayor Pro Tempore Mike Dodson agreed.

“I would like to see us go ahead and hire those people,” Dodson said. “I think you can find the money in the 21 million somewhere.”

Reddi also talked about the bringing cost of living adjustment (COLA) for RCPD down to the 1.6 percent the city is offering its employees from the proposed 1.7 percent. She said it would save them about $12,000.

“I don’t think we’re in a position to talk about ‘well, that’s too little,'” Reddi said.

Detective Bryan Johnson from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #17 spoke up to defend the 1.7 percent COLA. He said he remembers past boards have made small decreases to the COLA with negative results.

“Just a handful of years down the road we’re at a position where we’re not at the 50th percentile or even close to it with the McGrath study on surrounding agencies,” Johnson said.

He warned that if RCPD salaries didn’t keep up with cost of living, they could begin losing officers to other departments that pay better.

“Aside from officers choosing to go to another community where they pay more and where cost of living is less, even if they choose to stay here they’re going to choose to stay in a neighboring community where housing is less,” Johnson told the board. “They’re going to live in a different county, they’re going to live in a different city.”

Riley County Commissioner Marvin Rodriguez also spoke in favor of the 1.7 percent increase.

“We’re in a competitive market, I do know it costs a lot more to train new people than to train existing people,” Rodriguez said.

The $21.5 million budget passed with the conditions that the additional three correctional officers and one video clerk proposed in the previous budget are hired and that the 1.7 COLA is maintained.

The board also received an update on Pawnee’s Co-Responder program with RCPD that began last year. Co-responders are mental health professionals that respond with police officers to calls where there are mental health concerns. The program began with goals including reducing unnecessary emergency room visits, reducing arrests and length of arrest for mentally ill people, reducing repeat 911 calls and more.

Pawnee Mental Health Crisis Services Director Matthew Myers said the program has been getting great reviews.

“I’ve been told its a good day when a co-responder is on and there’s more confidence when there’s a co-responder assessing a situation where there’s a mental health situation going on,” Myers said.

Additionally, co-responders train with police to help them understand how they approach these situations for instances when a co-responder is not available.

“It’s really good working with the RCPD and the co-responders because they work very well with each other,” Myers said. “I see good professional relationships building.”

Myers said co-responders were able to help 57 people who previously would have been taken to the emergency room avoid hospitalization. They also will be training with KSU PD in July so that department can utilize the co-responders as needed as well.

“This didn’t happen overnight, it took many years,” Reddi said. “It took the changing of culture for police officers as well as Pawnee co-responders and how to handle that”

USD 383 Assistant Superintendent Eric Reid also presented the district’s security plan before the board.

“Security-wise and security planning-wise as far as preparation, planning and training, we’re — as far as school districts goes — probably one of the forefronts in the state,” said Reid.

Where they are looking to improve is in their facilities. They are looking to upgrade school facilities to institute a two-stage process to enter the school. In this new security protocol whenever you enter a school building from an external entrance, you first have to go through an office.

“What we would prefer is to allow people to come into the buildings, allow them into that office before they go into any areas that can accommodate students,” Reid said.

Reid said older schools such as Eisenhower Elementary and Anthony Middle School would be in need of renovations to accommodate the new protocol.

But no matter how much they plan and prepare for the worst, Reid told the board he cannot 100 percent guarantee it’s possible to prevent all danger.

“[There are] things happening all the time, but you want to do the best you can, you want to be as responsible as you can, you want to be as proactive as you can, but you have to be reasonable to your community as well,” he said.

Lastly, the board discussed their search for a new director. The board approved their contract with McGrath Consulting Group, a human resources company that will conduct the search process and evaluation of candidates. Chair Craig Beardsley said the search will cost $37,500, which includes cost of assessments of the candidates and facility rental for public meet and greets. They also set aside an additional $1500 for advertising for a total of $3000, but Beardsley said they don’t expect it to get spent.

Reddi asked about a provision they had an oral agreement on with McGrath that would allow the board to see all materials and information on all of the candidates, but was not in the contract.

“I just need it in writing,” Reddi said. “I’ve just learned from experience unless it’s in writing, I don’t see it happening.”

The board also considered adding a non-discrimination clause in the contract, which was removed from a prior draft.

“We typically have not included that specific language in our agreements simply because, quite frankly, it’s the law,” said Mike Gillespie, the law board counsel.

He also said that the non-discrimination clause that was in the contract had been added by McGrath Consulting and included provisions prohibiting discrimination on arrest record and conviction status.

“We’re getting ready to hire a police officer, in fact the chief executive police officer, and by law we are required to weed out or eliminate candidates based on their criminal history, convictions,” said Gillespie. “That is, in itself, a form of ‘discrimination,’ but it’s not unlawful discrimination.”

The board agreed to put it back in, but strike out criminal status from being one of the protected classes in the contract.

“I do want some kind of non-discrimination clause there for all the other protected classes,” Reddi said.

The contract was approved with the re-addition of the altered non-discrimination clause and the inclusion of the previously oral agreement that the board would be able to see all of the candidates’ information that was collected by McGrath.

The board is hoping to get the whole process completed by October.

“We’re hoping to get the interviews in late August, maybe September, and there will be two days when we will bring them in and hopefully four candidates will have a chance to interact with [the public]and see presentations,” said Reddi.

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