Issaquah Council adds 3 new police positions

Residents have been vocal about a lack of traffic enforcement on city streets.

Issaquah residents concerned about speeding in town may soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief — the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting unanimously authorized funding for three more full-time police officers.

Two of the added officers will specifically be traffic officers, addressing traffic enforcement and collisions during the police department’s busiest times; the other will be a patrol officer assisting with calls during peak hours.

The city currently funds 37 full-time police officers; however, there are currently two vacancies. According to the city’s agenda packet, four of the 35 officers are currently in training, but are expected to be operational by this spring.

The 2018 budget originally included funds for three more police officers, but the council voted to postpone this decision until the first quarter of 2018. The funding will be allocated on April 1, the start of the second quarter of 2018.

The total cost to bring on three new officers equates to $585,000, with $263,000 of that representing salary and benefits for one year.

Because of the intense amount of time needed for training, it will be spring 2019 before the new officers are fully operational.

“It takes approximately a year to get someone up and running, from the time that they are hired to the time that they are on their own,” Police Chief Scott Behrbaum explained at the meeting.

To help fill that gap, the city also proposed an extra $100,000 during the next year to fund interim traffic solutions — namely overtime hours for current police officers and contracting additional traffic enforcement through other law enforcement agencies. Councilmember Chris Reh moved that this be considered at the March 12 council work session; the motion carried unanimously.

During 2017, residents of the Highlands met in public forums to discuss their concerns about speeding and a lack of following the rules of the road, rendering the neighborhood a dangerous place. Police consistently expressed to residents that the department was understaffed, but encouraged them to report to police any dangerous behaviors that they witnessed.

“As our ability to spend time with our community members diminishes, then we start losing our communication, we start losing that trust with our community, we’re not as able to solve crimes,” Behrbaum said.

He noted that there had been an increase in traffic citations given out between 2017-2018.

The council members all expressed their support for the increase in law enforcement and thanked Behrbaum and his staff for their service.

“Our community wants this. I hear that over and over again, they want it,” Councilmember Bill Ramos said.

“We as a city have grown and we have seen a lot of things that have changed as the city has grown,” Reh said, praising the quality of Issaquah’s law enforcement but noting how difficult it is to maintain this quality when a population grows so quickly.

“To achieve the desired level of service is to chase a moving target … Authorizing and funding these three positions will get us closer to that moving target,” said Councilmember Victoria Hunt, who, having been appointed to fill Council Position 1 on Feb. 5, was serving at her first full council meeting on Monday.

After stating her support of the move, Councilmember Stacy Goodman also requested that police “report back on success” later in the year and use the city’s Peak Democracy program to solicit community response online on the increased enforcement.