Sunnyside police costs high, calls low compared to cities of similar size

This is the second in a six-part series that delves into a performance and management review study of the Sunnyside Police Department, commissioned at a cost of about $50,000.

Sunnyside has fewer of its sworn officers on patrol duty compared to cities of similar size.

In addition, it has fewer calls for service and higher police costs than cities of similar size.

That's according to a 131-page study the city of Sunnyside commissioned to review its police department. Work on the survey started last November and the results were released last week.

In chapter two of the study developed by Austin, Texas-based MGT of America, titled "Comparable Agency Analysis," the research compares Sunnyside and its police department to six other cities of similar size.

Four of the cities; Hermiston, Ore., Aberdeen, Centralia and Ellensburg; are slightly larger than Sunnyside's population of 15,858. The other two cities; Red Bluff, Calif. and East Wenatchee; are slightly smaller.

In selecting the six cities, the report considered similarities to Sunnyside beyond size. The other common factors included per capita income, percentage of the population in poverty, median age, education level, percentage of population foreign born, average household size and unemployment rate.

"A major value of agency comparison is the ability to allow local leaders to evaluate Sunnyside's own practices against those of comparable agencies to gain a better understanding of Sunnyside's overall performance," the report stated.

The research, using data from 2010, reflected that though Sunnyside had the fewest calls for service compared to the other cities that responded to the survey, Sunnyside had more sworn officers per 1,000 residents (2.33) than any of the other cities.

Red Bluff, for example, had 2,152 calls for service compared to just 767 for Sunnyside. Yet that city had 1.49 officers per 1,000 residents.

Further, nearby Ellensburg had more calls for service than Sunnyside, 941, but had only 1.38 officers per 1,000 residents.

While having the highest number of total sworn officers, Sunnyside was at the bottom of the survey for the ratio of patrol officers to sworn officers. Sunnyside's ratio of patrol to total number of sworn officers is 61 percent, meaning barely six of 10 are patrol officers.

"Despite a strategy of high visibility throughout the community, by comparison, Sunnyside employs a relatively small number of its total sworn officers as patrol officers," the survey concluded.

The survey also reviewed the cost per resident for police service compared to the number of crimes and violent crimes.

Sunnyside's cost per resident for the police budget was $336. That was more than any of the other cities in the survey, which ranged from $294 per resident in Centralia to $160 for Hermiston.

Yet Sunnyside, according to the 2010 data, had the third lowest number of crimes per 1,000 residents, 49. Four cities were higher, topped by Centralia and Red Bluff with 74 crimes per 1,000 residents. Hermiston at 44 and East Wenatchee with 43 were the lowest.

Similarly, Sunnyside was also near the bottom in terms of violent crimes per 1,000 residents. In Sunnyside the total was three, compared to Red Bluff with 10, Centralia at six and Hermiston at four.

The three violent crimes per 1,000 residents reported by Sunnyside and Aberdeen were next to last, as Ellensburg and East Wenatchee both reported two violent crimes per 1,000 population.

"While spending per resident may be an element of lower crime rates, the data does not suggest a direct correlation that increased spending per citizen alone reduces crime rates," MGT's survey stated.

The survey also looked at comparative overtime costs, a key concern for Sunnyside expressed in the research.

Sunnyside residents spent $25 each on police overtime in 2010, with the next highest, Red Bluff at $13.

"Although it's likely that there are many factors driving the size of Sunnyside's budget, one of the obvious drivers is overtime," the report noted.

MGT researchers, which included consultants with more than 30 years of police experience, expressed hope that Sunnyside can use the comparative data to improve its police programs.

"To ensure the best value to its citizens, the City of Sunnyside and SSPD must learn to closely monitor similar agencies to identify cost effective strategies, systems and programs," the report stated.


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