With two major apartment complexes going up in Philomath and the population increase that will follow, it makes sense to wonder what kind of impact there could be on city services from public works to the police department.
So when the local police committee convened Jan. 29 for the first time this year, new city councilor Matthew Thomas asked the question: “Is there a way to foreshadow, with the growth that’s going to happen, the need for another officer?”
Philomath Chief of Police Ken Rueben answered with confidence that his department will get along fine at its current staffing levels — at least until circumstances lead him to think otherwise.
“I think we’re OK. I think if you added 2,000 more people to this town, I think we’re at the right size,” Rueben said in reference to his nine-officer staff, which includes himself and the sergeant. “Of course, I’d like to have 10 more guys but I’m just being honest. I think we can manage right now.”
City councilor Doug Edmonds, who chairs the police committee, said that when housing developments come up for review, impact on city services is always one of the first questions.
“We don’t just ask the police department, we ask all of the different departments, ‘how is it going to impact you?’” Edmonds said, offering clarification because it was the first police committee meeting for Thomas as well as Terry Weiss. “If we add a new park, is that going to impact public works? Well, yeah, because you’ve got maintenance. … That question is asked by councilors and I’ve talked to Ken in this meeting about those kinds of things.”
Rueben said that he will likely have a better handle on future staffing needs down the road a bit.
“Ask me in two years after all this if there’s big traffic problems and we’re needed more and if there’s accidents and if there’s more crime, then I’ll come back to you,” he said. “I think in a couple of years, I’ll be able to do a couple-of-year forecast.”
Still, the need for a staff increase could come sooner if certain variables fall into place.
“When you add new housing to an area, calls typically don’t go up,” Rueben said. “I will change my answer if either one of these apartments gets primarily students where we’re getting calls for service for the typical student stuff. So maybe over the next three or four years, we might ask for another officer. I just don’t see it right now.”
The police department is actually not at full staff right now. Rueben lost one of his officers to the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and his replacement, new hire Jacob Coon, is currently going through the state police academy.
“It’s an 18-month turnaround from when we lose somebody to when we get the person hired,” Rueben said. “They go to the academy, they go through all of the mandatory training.”
The process includes on-the-job training after graduating from the academy, which involves going out on calls with a training officer. So the 18 months that Rueben cited refers to when the new officer can work by themselves.
“You can get somebody in 14 months but it’s very hard to do that,” Rueben said. “But that’s the impact when we lose somebody. Plus there’s obviously the cost of training people, all of the new equipment for that new person and then you’re losing the expertise when somebody leaves.”
Another Philomath police officer appears to be on his way out in the coming days. If that materializes, Rueben has a conditional offer to another recruit and the lengthy training process would then begin with that new officer.
“Luckily, when we tested for our last position, we actually had a huge group of people and we narrowed it down,” Rueben said. “There were five solid people that we could’ve hired off that list. Three of them already got hired by other places and our first choice, Jacob, is in the academy.”
It’s the remaining choice that could be joining the department soon. If that does happen, Philomath Police will be down two officers.
“A two-person hit on a nine-person department is significant,” Rueben said. “Plus, people can’t take vacation time, can’t take time off. … We got lucky — we have two really good candidates.”
Coon is on track to graduate from the academy in April and if the situation with the other position unfolds as anticipated, the second officer would probably graduate in late June or July.