The shortage of police officers nationwide has hit the Winnebago Police Department.
City officials have scheduled a work session beginning at 7 p.m. next Tuesday at the Municipal Center to discuss the problem.
“We can’t get anybody hired and we need to have coverage in the city,” says Mayor Scott Robertson. “We might have to merge with someone.”
The police department, when fully staffed, consists of Police Chief Eric Olson and two full-time officers. In addition, there are several part-time officers on the roster.
Last January, the council hired Michael Sharp of Fairmont as a full-time officer, contingent on him passing the Minnesota POST Board examination, completing a background investigation, physical testing and a psychological test.
According to the city’s website, there is still a vacant full-time position that needs to be filled.
“We have received one application since December,” says Olson. “I have been meeting with the Personnel Committee almost monthly to discuss the department and how we can better recruit officers to come and work in Winnebago.”
Being under staffed has made it difficult for Olson to use earned vacation. Council members last December allowed him to carry over 254 hours instead of the 200 hours allowed under the Personnel Policy.
Council members have taken some steps to recruit full-time officers by increasing the starting wage from $23.97 per hour to $25.39 per hour.
Also, part-time officers will be paid a temporary wage of $28.84 per hour as incentive to help the department. Once a full-time officer is hired the wage will go back to $19.50 per hour.
At the recommendation of the Personnel Committee, council members voted to amend the police department’s Personnel Policy to remove on-call officers requirement to maintain a 10-minute response time under normal conditions.
While the council will not take any formal action, Olson encourages anyone who has questions or concerns regarding the police department to attend the work session.
“I will say that I do not see us moving forward without a police department,” says Olson. “The work session is to get the rest of the council involved in the talks I have been having with the Personnel Committee.”