A.L. police chief asks council to rehire officer

Published 9:19 am Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels asked the members of the Albert Lea City Council last week to consider reinstating the city’s most junior officer next year. This officer’s job was eliminated at the beginning of the year and then brought back for one year through union concessions and city contingencies.

During a budget presentation at the council’s workshop, Winkels explained that his proposed Police Department budget for 2011 is $3.798 million and comprises:

  • 87 percent, or $3.3 million, for personnel.
  • 5 percent for the rental of the Law Enforcement Center.
  • 4 percent for transportation and vehicle costs.
  • 4 percent for operating costs and supplies.

He said personnel costs themselves, including retirement and health insurance costs, have increased by just under $100,000, and utility costs have also increased during the last year.

Email newsletter signup

“Our budget is pretty fixed with most items,” Winkels said. “We don’t have large expenditures. We’ve eliminated all major purchases from the budget the last two years.”

He noted that the $3.798 million proposed budget does not include the salary for the full-time officer. He is proposing to eliminate a half-time community service officer — at an estimated value of about $37,000 — and then reinstate the full-time officer, which will cost about $70,000 for a year. This would leave a gap of about $33,000 over the proposed amount.

The officer position is one that brought controversy to the community in January 2010 during union negotiations and council budget decisions.

In the end, the City Council approved a one-time transfer of $35,000 from the city’s contingencies fund to the police department budget, and the officers — through the Teamsters union — agreed to $35,000 in concessions through a combination of unpaid leave, a reduction in uniform allowance and a reduction in hourly employees’ holiday pay, among other things, to keep the officer in place.

This year and last, the department applied for a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Justice that would fund one officer for three years, however, they will not know whether they have been awarded this year’s grant until mid-September. The city did not receive the funding last year.

Winkels said Albert Lea has an average number of police per capita when comparing with other outstate Minnesota cities. Right now it has 1.6 officers per 1,000 people.

He said there’s not a specific number of officers a community should have — it depends on the level of service the department wants to provide and what kind of crime there is.

“You need as many officers as you’re required to police your community and provide services for your community,” he noted.

He said he has several officers close to retirement, and he envisions a couple leaving through attrition in the next couple years.

In the meantime, he and others in the city are anxiously awaiting the state Legislature’s decisions about local government aid.