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Hillsboro invests in new police officers, firefighters

With the number of emergency calls growing and law enforcement and firefighting professionals increasingly spread too thin, the time appears to be right to give public safety a boost in the city of Hillsboro.

On the evening of Dec. 16, the Hillsboro City Council voted unanimously to approve the addition of two new patrol officers for the Hillsboro Police Department (HPD) and three new lieutenants for the Hillsboro Fire Department (HFD) on a fast-track basis.

The new police officers will be hired to fill vacancies that will be created by the promotions of two officers currently on the force.

“The two new positions are so we can staff the detective unit to handle family crimes and domestic violence,” said HPD Sgt. Eric Bunday. “We can always use more resources to investigate misdemeanor offenses or family crimes. We’ve always had family crimes and domestic violence among our highest call-generator, so we want to bring additional staffing to alleviate the burden on the patrol officers.

“We need to hire other officers, because officers moving into these detective positions would be taken from existing positions.”

According to a Dec. 9 memorandum to the city’s Finance Committee from Police Chief Lee Dobrowolski and Robby Hammond, the city’s human resources director, the police department has been following up on an average of 700 child abuse referrals every year.

“The follow-up ... is in addition to the regular duties of detectives and uniformed officers,” read an excerpt from the memo. “Each referral takes at least one hour, but can take much longer.”

The memo also pointed out that domestic violence cases are usually misdemeanors, and detectives typically concentrate on felonies. As a result, domestic violence cases are often not given the attention they deserve.

In 2013, the HPD patrol division responded to 573 domestic abuse calls.

According to Bunday, the current authorized staffing of Hillsboro’s police force is 130.

“This would bring it up to 132,” Bunday said.

Bunday added that the two new officers will start April 2, 2015.

According to city documents, the patrol officers will be hired under a Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) pay scale that ranges from $4,831 to $6,084 per month.

The Hillsboro Police Department is accepting applications for patrol officer positions through Jan. 2.

The situation with Hillsboro Fire — which will soon add three new fire lieutenants to the roster — is similar, with the department struggling to handle a growing work load.

“The Hillsboro Fire Department has not added firefighter positions since 2008, despite experiencing a significant increase in demand for services. Our incident volume has increased from 7,392 in 2008 to 9,635 in 2013,” read an excerpt from another staffing-related Dec. 9 memorandum to the city’s Finance Committee, this one from Hammond and Scott Malone, the city’s deputy fire chief.

“There has been a significant jump in the number of calls,” said Storm Smith, spokesman for the HFD, after the council’s vote. “At some point, we have to put additional people in to meet the level of service required. We don’t ask for new positions without real justification. We are required by safety standards to have a certain number of people.”

The memorandum pointed to several factors involved in staffing level declines, which included a maturing work force with resulting higher leave accruals and opening a new fire station in 2010 on Northwest Cherry Lane without hiring additional firefighters.

According to Smith, fire lieutenants are vital to the safe and efficient operation of fire department operations.

“Fire lieutenants are essential crew leaders for engine companies, which usually have four members, and they serve as incident commanders for small incidents,” Smith said. “They are critical personnel to size up and determine what additional resources may be needed.”

Aron Carleson, president of the city council, said public safety is her top priority as a council member.

“The city now has a population of 95,310 and growing,” Carleson said. “With the daytime population of well over 120,000, it’s important to me that we keep pace to protect lives and property in Hillsboro.”

Smith said the three new lieutenants will be promoted from within the existing roster.

Adding three new fire lieutenants would bump the impact on the budget for fiscal year 2015-16 by roughly $416,600. The pay range for fire lieutenants in Hillsboro — who also are eligible for PERS — ranges from $6,506 to $7,465 per month.

“We are currently at 78 firefighters plus chief officers, support staff, training and prevention. With the additions, we would be at 81,” Smith said.

Smith said there will be a promotional process from within for the new lieutenants. The department hopes to have the new lieutenants in place by Jan. 25.

In the wake of the promotions, the department will have openings for three entry-level firefighters.

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