The Wauwatosa Police Department would take a slight reduction of about 0.2 percent under the city's proposed budget, a decrease of about $30,000 to a 2014 appropriation of $14.66 million.
The department's budget has decreased steadily since 2011, and Police Chief Barry Weber said at last week's budget meeting that discussion of the cost to continue current service was less pertinent than a discussion of "what the cost is if we don't continue."
While no reduction in staffing is required this year, in contrast to last year, when it lost an administrative officer, the threat of reduced service could put the city "on that slippery slope, (where) Wauwatosa becomes that place where everybody knows the cops aren't following up on those cases, there aren't as many of them out there, it's easier to rip things off."
And budget support for new programming is "just non-existent. We don't do that any more," he said.
While many city departments are absorbing spending cuts, the police budget for 2014 will remain essentially flat, helped by an initiative with the city clerk's office that seeks to recover $55,000 in outstanding warrants — anything from speeding tickets to retail theft citations, Capt. Tim Sharpee said.
This is part of a larger, longer-term program to collect money already owed the city on a variety of judgments, fines and fees. City Administrator James Archambo estimated the total figure owed at about $900,000, though he acknowledged that a certain percentage of that would be impossible to collect.
A second factor keeping the police budget in check is the retirement of about 10 senior officers who are being replaced by newer officers who earn a lower salary, Finance Director John Ruggini said.
Sharpee said, on an annual basis, the pay savings when a lieutenant departs and a new recuit is hired is least $15,000, taking into account a promotion and accompanying raise to fill the lieutenant's position.
The Police Department's expanding technology needs occupied a good deal of discussion at last week's meeting of the Budget Committee. The department is served by one full-time systems administrator, who also helps the Fire Department, and whose workload has become "overwhelming," said Alderman John Dubinski, a former officer.
At a budget meeting a couple weeks ago, Information Technology Director Tom Otzelberger proposed adding a half-time position to help out with the police systems. Under questioning by aldermen, he suggested he would like a full-time person, but feared that a half-timer would be all that would meet approval.
Dubinski has pushed for the full-time position.
"When I started working for the Police Department back in '79, we didn't have computers. We didn't have any of the technology that we have now," he said. From paper reports and carbon paper copies, the department has transformed into a paperless entity.
"And it's a heck of a system. They have their automated 911 dispatch for police and fire. ... The squads, they have wireless communication with dispatch and for report writing. They have digital video now in squad cars. They have digital video recording for prisoner interviews in the station. The IT demands are just overwhelming. I don't think anybody here would deny that or argue against trying to get the personnel to keep the stuff right," he said.
For years, a sergeant has been assigned to assist, he said.
"I myself as a retired cop, I myself as a citizen, would rather see that sworn officer out of the office and onto the road."
Weber and Sharpee noted that the segeant is limited to "putting out fires," technology-wise, and has other duties as well.
This matter has been held for re-examination at the end of the budget process, to see what's left in the budget, Ruggini said. Other issues on the same list are a request to preserve two crossing guard positions that were proposed to be cut, and increasing funding for the library, to bring it above its "moderate" designation among its peers.
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