Police chief pleased with level of service offered by Crestwood

Public Services Department to be focus of final town-hall meeting

By BURKE WASSON

A comparison of the Crestwood Police Department with police in nearby municipalities shows that the department is “right in the middle” in terms of staffing and expenses, according to Police Chief Michael Paillou.

“I think what’s interesting about these numbers is we’re right in the middle,” Paillou told roughly 60 residents Saturday morning during a town-hall meeting. “And I’m very comfortable with us being in the middle of police services and fire services.

“They cost money. There’s no denying that. We’re not at the high end. We’re not at the low end. We’re in a conservative budget, so we’re staying within that budget.”

Crestwood employs the full-time equivalent of 37 police officers, including 30 sworn officers, with a total department budget of $3,017,947 for 2008.

The department covers 3.6 square miles and serves an estimated 2000 population of 11,863 residents.

By comparison, Crestwood’s total full-time equivalent of 37 officers is more than Fenton’s 27 officers employed through St. Louis County and Sunset Hills’ 31 officers. However, Crestwood’s roster of 37 officers is less than Webster Groves’ 47 officers and Kirkwood/Oakland’s 63 officers.

Crestwood’s 2008 budget for the Police Department also corresponds with the fewer number of officers in Fenton, which operates police protection through the county at an annual cost of $2,482,968, and Sunset Hills, which has a police budget of $2,278,056.

By comparison, Webster Groves’ police budget is $4,167,268 and Kirkwood/Oak-land’s police budget is $5,044,572.

Crestwood’s 2000 population of 11,863 is also in the middle compared to these four nearby cities as Kirkwood/Oakland’s population was 28,900; Webster Groves’ population was 23,230; Sunset Hills’ population was 8,267; and Fenton’s population was 4,360.

Crestwood also ranks third among the five cities with 18 police vehicles. Kirkwood/Oakland has 23, Webster Groves has 20, Sunset Hills has 10 and Fenton has eight.

Roughly 60 residents heard this Police Department information during the second of a series of town-hall meetings.

At the first town-hall meeting, which in January was devoted to the city’s administration and Fire Department, more than 80 people came to a consensus that they are not interested in contracting the city’s fire services with a fire protection district.

The city has scheduled a third town-hall meeting for the city’s Public Services Department at 7 p.m. on March 18 at the Government Center, 1 Detjen Drive.

The Board of Aldermen unanimously voted in November to schedule the town-hall meetings to present status reports of the city’s services and solicit input from residents on possible improvements.

The total cost to operate the Police Department this year is $3,017,947, which includes $174,600 for capital improvement, which Paillou identified as payments for new police cars and an initial payment on the city’s new communications system.

“This is the annual lease payment for the 10 new Crown Victorias that we have and $95,000 that we encumbered to pay for our communications system that we’re in the process of doing,” he said. “If I can’t communicate, I can’t get that police car to your house. If the police car doesn’t run, I can’t guarantee it’s going to get to the house.”

The number of Crestwood police officers has steadily dropped since 2002, when the department was staffed with 45 employees at a total cost of $2,973,701. In the city’s 2008 budget, the department has 37 employees at a cost of $2,843,347.

Recent expenditures toward the Police Department include leasing 10 new police vehicles in 2007 at a cost of $257,000 and paying $560,000 this year for the city’s new communications system.

The Board of Aldermen voted 4-2 on first reading at the board’s Feb. 12 meeting to approve that $560,000 payment.

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland and Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel voted “no” and have contended that the city would be wiser to finance that communications system.

Ward 2 Alderman Steve Knarr and Ward 4 Alderman John Foote were absent from that meeting.

Aldermen were scheduled Tuesday — after the Call went to press — to vote on a second reading of the ordinance to pay off the city’s new communications system.

“We’ve been in front of the Board of Aldermen countless times,” Paillou said. “We made the case for the need. The communications system is now 34 years old. They don’t make parts for it anymore. If it breaks, we’re done.”

The Police Department has 10 2007 Ford Crown Victoria emergency police vehicles, four special-service vehicles and four administrative vehicles.

Crestwood police received 5,387 calls in 2007 and delivered an average response time of 3 minutes and 56 seconds.

A crime report for 2007 showed that Crestwood had 602 alleged stealing cases, 119 cases of property damage, 19 burglaries, 14 motor-vehicle thefts, five cases of rape/sexual assault, three robberies and no murders.

The department also participates in community-oriented programs like Drug Abuse Resistance Education, the Community Emergency Response Team, the Citizens’ Preparedness Program, neighborhood watch, Make a Difference Day and the Alternative, which is a summer program for youngsters ages of 11 to 16.

As for future concerns, Paillou said city officials will have to decide whether the city’s $257,000 lease of 10 new police vehicles will continue to be a good move.

“We have to look at the lease and see if that’s the best thing for the city or if it isn’t,” he said. “We’re only seven or eight months into it. Right now, to talk to the (city) mechanic, I’ve dropped $8,600 in fleet maintenance since I put these 10 new cars on the road. The numbers will tell that story. And I don’t think seven or eight months at this point is good enough. I rely upon my mechanic. I’m a police chief. I’m not an auto mechanic. I drive them. I don’t work on them.”

The police chief also stressed that retaining police officers is another concern for future years as the city’s police officers have dropped from the equivalent of 45 officers in 2002 to 41.75 officers in 2004 to 37 officers in 2007.

“Employee retention is an issue,” Paillou said. “Our employees have been through quite a lot over the last year. They’ve seen cutbacks. They’ve seen small pay raises, no pay raises. There’s a lot of opportunities.”

“… When we start losing people, and we’ve lost a lot with the cutbacks in ’04 and ’05, when you get a big turnover, you get into a big training cycle. It’s an issue. And any time that goes too fast, the bar drops.”