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During Salida City Council’s Work Session on May 17, Police Chief Russ Johnson spoke to the council about the state of policing as the city prepares for the high summer season, and the need for community policing contingency funding. The money for a new officer is already in the budget and the department plans to proceed with hiring the new officer. It can’t come too soon.

“We’re busy. Town is definitely packed with people, both moving here and people that are just visiting,” explained Johnson. “Being the hub of the county, we get to service all those people.”

“The calls for service are remaining high,” he continued. “This year so far, we’re at 2,223 calls for service at the end of April. April was extremely high compared to last year — because of COVID everyone shut down and didn’t know what to do. We rebounded this year with a 77 percent increase over April of last year.”

Screenshot take during Salida City Council Work Session on May 17.

Last year the Salida Police Department added an extra officer to the budget based on the 25 percent increase of call they were receiving.

“We’re getting ready to go into the busy time of the year which I anticipate it will continue at the same rate for March and April,” he added. “If we get to that number, we’re probably looking around nine thousand calls for service. We’ve never been over seven thousand calls [per year] in Salida.”

Johnson added, “We’re running a little thin; throw in time off and trainings. Something has to give so either we cut back on training which in this day and age isn’t a good thing to do, or we’ve got to look at adding some personnel.”

“With the movement into the community and county, the challenge is to add non-certified personnel and doing more of the community service approach. We have switched to that; we’ve switched from code enforcement to community service officers.”

This switch — taking calls for service that aren’t police-related — has taken some of the burden off of patrolmen. “The immediate need is filling the street for the safety and protection of citizens and guests and being at the minimum staffing level.”

Image courtesy of the City of Salida.

The department has had a national job posting for a new officer up for five months with no applicants. Johnson said there is a local resident who is interested in the position and the department plans to send him to the academy to fill the position, but this person then would not be on the force until May of 2022.

Johnson went on to address the national police shortage. “Every police chief or sheriff that I talk to is facing the same problems. It’s not a very attractive job right now. There’s a lot of national attention. A lot of negativities caused by what those cops are doing and media attention.”

The city is working with the department to be flexible with the budget to fill the current need for an officer, while also sending the current candidate to the academy so they will be trained and on the force in 2022.