Public safety focus of budget meeting

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Public safety was the primary topic of budget discussions during Tacoma City Council’s study session on Oct. 23. Police Chief Don Ramsdell started with some of Tacoma Police Department’s achievements during the current budget cycle. This includes hiring a part-time psychologist to assist officers with issues they face at work and off the job. The fitness center was renovated with new exercise equipment. A workshop on recruiting female officers was held this past August. Several high-profile cold cases have been solved. Burglary is down 12.5 percent and auto theft down 14.2 percent. A program to educate children on pedestrian safety, featuring motorcycles named Harvey and Beulah, was restored.

Mayor Victoria Woodards recalled Harvey visiting her elementary school. “Maybe it will spark more interest in our kids to be police officers.”

The department’s budget for the next biennium is $182 million. A vehicle replacement fund will have $5 million to replace 74 patrol cars and $1 million for other vehicles. “Our fleet is getting old and costs a lot to maintain,” Ramsdell observed.

One human resources goal is to reduce the time it takes to hire officers. In 2019, the goal is to hire 80 percent within 90 days. Ramsdell was asked about efforts to increase diversity in the department. He said TPD has met with groups such as Tacoma Ministerial Alliance on this, as well as having booths at hiring events at the University of Washington and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “We try to reach out to as many organizations as we can.”

Fire Chief James Duggan oversees the Tacoma Fire Department with a budget of around $160 million. He said there is uncertainty in the near future about the amount of reimbursement from Medicare that TFD will receive for transporting patients. He noted that the last levy lid lift for emergency medical services was in 2006 and there may be need for another soon.

Duggan mentioned the issue of nursing homes that have patients in need of being lifted into a chair or bed. TFD has between 350 and 365 such calls per year. The department is considering charging a fee for this. The amount could be $850, although that figure is still under consideration.

The hope is that facilities will plan to handle such instances without the help of firefighters. “We do not want any revenue from this source, ultimately.”

TFD has a youth academy for children of middle-school age. In January it will start a cadet program.

Linda Stewart, director of Community and Neighborhood Services, discussed the 35 programs in her department. She discussed efforts to address homelessness, including a goal for another 100 shelter beds by 2020. One vacancy will be filled by a position of inspector of derelict homes. She wants to reduce the time a code enforcement case is open to 26 days.

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