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POLICE OFFICES FREQUENTLY SEEM DEVOID OF OFFICERS

Who's running the community police offices? Most of the time, nobody.

There are seven police offices set up in stores and business plazas around the city, but keeping the offices staffed on a regular basis is proving to be a problem. In neighborhoods that don't yet have a police office, tracking down officers assigned to the area is particularly difficult.Three council members complained this week during review of an audit of the city's crime prevention programs about the lack of regular hours at the neighborhood police offices and difficulty they've had contacting officers.

"I don't know where to call him or where he'll be when," said Roselyn Kirk, District 6 council member. "He's been slow to respond to calls also. I think there should be an established hour at a minimum when the officer would be available at a certain location and number to take calls."

That was to be a primary benefit of setting up community police offices around the city. Although the city never intended officers to hang around the offices all the time, they did expect they'd be there routinely.

For residents, the offices are supposed to provide a convenient place to contact officers about neighborhood problems, to hold meetings, counseling and training sessions. For the police department, the offices provide a visible presence in a neighborhood. For officers, they provide a "home base" to use during shifts.

"We thought that was the answer to our prayers," said District 2 Councilman Paul Hutchison.

But more often than not, no one is available at the offices. For Hutchison, that's meant fielding four or five calls a month from residents wanting to report crimes.

The Glendale office, which is in District 2, is supposed to be open three afternoons a week for two hours each day. But the officers who work the area routinely end up responding to calls during that time, Hutchison said.

"We have the office, we have the idea but we don't have the officer there to do it," Hutchison said.

District 3 Councilman Sam Souvall says he's getting three or four calls a day from residents with "consistent, almost chronic crime problems."

"I thought the officers would be very visible," Souvall said. "The reality is they are not because they are so stretched in their responsibilities."

So where are the officers? On the beat answering calls, said Assistant Police Chief Larry Stott.

"We thought everybody knew up front we wouldn't be able to put people in there immediately," Stott said. "It's a little bit frustrating to us and to citizens to have the offices and not have them fully staffed."

In some areas, the offices may not be manned regularly but officers are out in the neighborhoods making a difference. That's been the case around North Temple, for example, where officers have helped stage cleanup projects and been involved in other community service work, Stott said.

"They are not up and running all the time; however, a lot of good is taking place," Stott said.

Stott said five new officers who are currently completing training will be placed in a neighborhood office - probably the Rio Grande office - by next January. The city also will learn in six weeks if it will receive a federal grant to cover the cost of hiring additional officers to work in the Glendale office.

And Stott wants to staff other offices with volunteers or nonsworn officers who can take calls and crime reports. One volunteer already is working regularly in the community police office in Sugar House.

This week the police department is hiring three retired police officers to take reports and field calls. For now, they'll be assigned to the community police office in the Avenues, Stott said.

What the city really needs is more volunteers willing to man the offices and answer telephone calls, do reports and handle walk-in traffic, Stott said.

Souvall thinks the city also needs at least 75 more police officers and a mechanism to encourage officers to live in the city where they work.

"The community-oriented policing concept is a good one, to have officers walking the beat," Souvall said. "But the fact is that staffing levels are at such a point the police officers are always reactive. They can't be proactive. It really defeats the purpose of having it.

"The existing force is exemplary but the bottom line is we need more cops and need more of them living in the city," Souvall said.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Locations around town

Community police offices:

- 647 W. North Temple, in a bowling alley.

- 428 W. 300 South, in the Rio Grande building.

- 1199 Glendale Drive, in a business plaza.

- 1174 W. 600 North, in Smith's store.

- 876 E. 800 South, in Smith's store.

- 402 Sixth Avenue, in Smith's store.

- 2135 S. Highland Drive, in the old library building.

The police department plans to open a new office in the Poplar Grove area sometime this year.