Sunset Hills aldermen OK request for third detective

Residents would rather see another patrol officer in city

By Gloria Lloyd

After an unexpected influx of money from this year’s Ameren Missouri rate increase, the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen granted the police chief’s request for a third police detective at its March 12 meeting.

Despite concerns by residents who prefer another patrol officer on the streets instead of a detective, the board voted 5-2 to approve Chief of Police William LaGrand’s request to add the detective to its staff of 25 police officers.

Opposed were Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich and Ward 4 Alderman Patricia Fribis. Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler was in the hospital at the time of the meeting.

“I am in favor of a strong police force,” Finance Committee member Ken Conley, speaking as a citizen, said during the discussion. “But … what would make the citizens feel safer, an extra patrolman or two on the streets, or a third detective?”

At the meeting, LaGrand said he will select the new detective from among his current patrol officers and then hire a new patrol officer. Patrol officers will gain valuable investigative experience by rotating in and out of the position every two to four years, but will not make more in salary while in the detective position.

The budget amendment submitted by the Finance Committee allocates $47,783 for salary and benefits for the additional police position. In LaGrand’s request last year, he asked for $64,000 in salary and benefits for the new detective.

When LaGrand submitted the request, he noted that it had been many years since his department added positions.

Although the Police Advisory Board unanimously approved LaGrand’s request last year, LaGrand withdrew the request due to lack of funding. An unexpected $90,000 payment from the 10-percent Ameren rate increase led the board to reconsider the request.

Both residents who spoke against the hiring at the meeting said they noticed a decline in police presence on the streets and would prefer the board hire an additional patrol officer instead, citing police visibility as a crime deterrent.

“In my opinion, (a third detective) is an unwise use of our limited Police Department resources,” Bill Cotner said. “I am not alone in believing we are seeing less and less evidence of the Sunset Hills police regularly patrolling our neighborhoods. Others in my neighborhood are reporting a similar experience … Regular patrols are few and far between.”

Conley agreed with Cotner, noting that he used to see several police cars on his street every week when he was working full-time. In the years since he has retired, however, he said he sees an officer patrolling “maybe once a quarter, twice a quarter.”

Fribis said residents told her they want to see more police on their streets and she has informed LaGrand of the comments.

At a crime-prevention meeting in Conley’s neighborhood in February, residents asked a police officer about the lack of patrols, Conley said. The officer responded that police now have extra duties patrolling highways and entering reports into the computers in their cars.

Since the number of patrol officers remains the same, LaGrand said at the meeting, the police presence on the streets will not increase with the new position, and no additional vehicle will be added. Instead, he said, it is his professional judgment that the city needs more criminal investigations. Of 16 offenses committed in January and February, the department made only five arrests.

“Eleven of those still need to be investigated,” he said. “We need to have that capability.”

After Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau asked how Sunset Hills compares to other cities in investigative capacity, LaGrand replied that he examined statistics from five or six similar cities and found that Sunset Hills is near the bottom in police per 1,000 residents and in investigative and uniformed officers, although the city has the second-highest number of serious offenses.

Conley said he examined four weekly police reports and saw three of 49 items that might require a detective, he said.

“It’s very obvious that a lot of these (crimes) do not require anything more than patrol activity,” Conley said.

Cotner agreed that the types of crimes committed in Sunset Hills do not justify the hiring of a third detective.

“Repeatedly, month after month, our chief of police comes to (the board) and … basically says, ‘There is nothing happening, nothing to report,'” he added. “Therefore, the meeting minutes underscore that there is nothing that would require a third detective. That tells you all you need to know about what I believe is an unjustified and unsubstantiated request.”