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Lynchburg police chief wants to add 26 cops over the next five years

Lynchburg police chief wants to add 26 cops over the next five years

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Chief Zuidema 02

Police Chief Ryan Zuidema, right, talks to Desmond Doss Jr., of Ilwaca, Washington, left, at the "Support Our Troops" rally at Monument Terrace in Lynchburg on Oct. 11, 2019.

Lynchburg Police Chief Ryan Zuidema today is expected to unveil a sweeping proposal to expand the department by more than two dozen new officers and more than a dozen new civilian employees over the next five years.

The request, which if approved by Lynchburg City Council would usher in the most significant expansion of the department in decades, is aimed at easing the workload for what officials said is a perennially short-staffed police force.

The department needs 42 additional cops and more than 20 new civilian employees on top of the existing 174 officers and 24 full-time civilian staffers, according to the results of a year-long internal analysis of the department’s staffing needs.

But Zuidema is expected to ask city council to fund the hiring of just 26 new officers and at least 16 new civilian employees at the body’s afternoon work session, city documents show.

“The disparity in the distribution of workload within the police department is beyond the realm where simply adjusting manpower will correct the issue. The Lynchburg Police Department is grossly understaffed and only additional manpower will correct the issue,” police officials wrote in a more than 200-page workload assessment provided to council members.

The report, prepared by the department’s intelligence unit, argues the size of the department has not kept pace with the growth of the city, which has added more than 10,000 residents since 2010 but only four additional officers over that same period.

Though the report notes Lynchburg has a relatively low and stable crime rate when compared to other similarly sized Virginia cities, it highlights recent spikes in calls for mental health crises and evolving police standards which require officers to devote more time to specific calls, such as domestic disputes.

“The increased time spent on calls leaves officers running from call to call with little to no time for preventive or proactive police work,” the report states.

The report cites a recommendation by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that patrol officers should dedicate no more than 30% of their time responding to calls for service. In Lynchburg, patrol officers generally spend 42% of their shift responding to calls.

The heavy workload and a lack of engagement between officers and residents, the report argues, could erode public trust and increase fatigue among officers.

Police officials have expressed concern for years that a growing workload could contribute to higher turnover. The department loses about 20 officers — or more than a tenth of its sworn staff — every year to retirements, resignations and terminations.

According to an internal survey cited in the report, 30% of LPD employees indicated they were considering leaving the department and more than 40% indicated that they don’t see themselves employed with the city of Lynchburg in the next five years.

Zuidema’s request comes as police departments across the country face increased scrutiny after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked a national movement against racial injustice and police brutality.

Locally, activists have called on the city to reconsider how the police department spends its nearly $19 million budget, with some suggesting fewer dollars should go toward military-style weapons and equipment.

Under Zuidema’s plan, the city would fund an additional five sworn officer positions and three civilian positions every year over the next five years until the goal of 200 total officers is reached. The request does not indicate how the 26th officer and 16th civilian staffer would be funded.

The majority of the new officers would be devoted to the department’s 95-officer strong patrol division, which is tasked with responding to calls and working neighborhood beats. The rest of the new employees would be divided between the criminal investigations division and smaller department units.

It is unclear how much money the proposal will cost the city. Last year, the department spent $15.5 million on salaries and benefits for its about 200 employees, according to budget documents.

Zuidema’s presentation will mark just the first step in a nearly yearlong budgetary process that is likely to conclude sometime next spring.

Several council members have previously expressed support for hiring more officers, but with the coronavirus pandemic sapping tax revenue and local activists demanding changes to police spending, the future of Zuidema’s proposal is far from certain — a fact acknowledged by the report.

“Every journey begins with the first step,” the report states, “and in the (sic) this case, an addition of 5, 10, or even 15 officers to the department’s allocation could have the dramatic effect of relieving the workload burden and giving officers more free time for proactive community policing.”

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