Ontario’s streets are “less safe than I would like,” Mayor Ron Verini wrote recently.
The mayor’s remark was part of a response to questions posed by the Malheur Enterprise during its reporting on the city budget.
Here are the questions and answers from Verini, or as noted, Chief Cal Kunz. The answers have been edited for brevity and to remove extensive quotes from a 2014 consultant’s report on police services. The full text of that report is available on the Ontario city website at ontariooregon.org/SalesTaxDiscussion.cfm.
Q: The report showed the calls for service in 2013 totaled 10,836. In 2016, according to the city manager, the city had 10,198 calls for service. That is a reduction in three years of 638 calls for service. What is the basis for stating that calls for service are increasing?
A: I got the below numbers from Chief Cal and I believe that these numbers are the ones that make sense, and what we are using as a base for my thought process of when I state that calls for service are increasing.
2017 Est. 11,292
Q: The report said the calls for service volume is “within acceptable bounds and that “the patrol function is appropriately staffed.” At the time you received the report, did you dispute, question or challenge these statements? Do you do so now?
A: That report was in 2014 and I do not recall what I said at that time but I would say today that we are understaffed for the number of calls we are getting and that I would think that calls for service is not within the acceptable bounds today. The above quote must be taken in context of the entire report. All OPD officers are assigned to patrol. Since there are no other functions staffed directly, all police functions suffer as indicated in additional excerpts from the report.
Q: The report states that “a substantial number of CFS dispatches to officers in OPD could be eliminated.” At the time you received the report; did you dispute, question or challenge this statement? Do you do so now?
A: This question as well as others that you are addressing me need to be addressed to our police chief. I do not run the department and I rely on our chief and city manager to address the operations and I would make my decisions on their recommendations. We don’t know what is behind each call without responding. There may be something much bigger behind the call than it sounds.
A (Kunz): We are continually addressing the CFS to be more efficient. We prioritize addressing calls, but we strive to eventually follow up on all calls, because that’s what our citizens expect.
Q: The report states that “efficient use of scarce resources dictate that responses to nonemergency situations be minimized.” The report indicated that some calls for service didn’t warrant police response and recommended a committee analyze the issue. The first major recommendation in the report is: “Empanel a calls for service (CFS) committee to evaluate service demands and attempt to reduce and/or eliminate nonemergency responses.” As a city councilor and now mayor, what steps have you recommended or supported to evaluate calls for service changes as recommended by this report?
A: After that report was presented, a conversion started that eventually concluded that we need to hire a chief with new ideas and a fresh look at efficiencies and the department. That is what we did and I believe that by doing so we are on track of having a police department that is and will continue to bring new ideas, efficiencies and a better-trained group of officers to our streets and a safer community.
Q: The report indicates that Ontario’s patrol staffing is adequate: “On average the OPD has an over-abundance of resources assigned to patrol to handle the workload.” “The data indicate that workload demands in Ontario are easily met by the resources available … The current staffing levels are appropriate to meet the demand.” How do you explain the conflict between these statements and the statements by you and other city officials that the city needs additional patrol officers?
A: Considering the fact that we no longer have a gang officer, any detectives and do not have a captain, I would say that with the volume of calls and the number of boots on the ground we are truly in reactive mode and not pro-active mode. I would say that makes our streets less safe then I would like.
Q: How do you explain that there is no recommendation included in the major recommendations that the city add patrol resources?
A: The report outlines additional personnel to be hired on page 2 so as to allow patrol officers to focus on patrol. As quoted above they do not have that luxury now.
About five years ago, the task force and our police department rounded up a number of gang kingpins and sent them to prison. It is five years later and they are now starting to be released and coming home. I see an increase in graffiti and without a gang officer, resources are going to be
needed and I would like to be pro-active and keep ahead of the trend.
Q: You said in the interview you base your concerns about police staffing based on the monthly reports received by the city council. The June 2017 report shows calls for service are up over last year. What increases in those calls should the community be concerned about?
A: The community should be concerned about any increase of numbers on any police report. Every one of those calls is important to the individual that has made the call and it is our responsibility to take every one of them seriously. If we were more proactive we certainly would not get the number of calls we do. You have shown me stats of 10,000 calls plus and say that because some of those numbers have gone down, you ask are we safer? I say no because every one, or at least most, of the calls are connected to a problem and that, for a force our size, does not make me feel safer.
Q: The June 2017 report shows that arrests are down 14 percent this year over last year. What is your takeaway from this statistic?
A: My take away from that is we do not have enough officers on the streets doing what they do best, arresting folks that commit crimes. Without dedicated detectives much of the officers’ time is in the detective part of the case, so we do not have enough boots on the ground.