A proposal to add a second Omaha Police Department recruit class next year is competing with Mayor Jean Stothert's plan for the state's largest law enforcement agency.
City Council President Pete Festersen offered a plan Wednesday to create the extra recruit class next year, in addition to a class proposed by the mayor. Festersen wants to expand the force to 820 officers by 2015.
The mayor's budget proposal includes money to bring the force to 804 officers in 2014. Omaha currently has about 780 officers on staff.
So while officials debate layoffs in the Fire Department, discussion surrounding the police budget involves how many officers to add.
A recruiting class had been scheduled to start this fall, but Stothert elected to delay it until March to help close a budget gap. It takes about nine months to train a recruit class.
Festersen's proposal sets up some jockeying over which police recruit plan is best.
Festersen would commit the city to adding more officers by 2015, and says his plan would have them on the street a couple of months before they would be ready under Stothert's proposal. The mayor says she also would add officers in 2015, but her plan would have a larger number of officers ready in 2014 than Festersen's plan would.
Festersen said he would propose two recruiting classes:
» The first would have 16 to 21 officers and would start around the beginning of next year. Those officers would hit the streets late in 2014.
» Around October 2014, the city would launch a class of about 35 officers. The bulk of their training expenses would be delayed until they hit city streets in 2015.
» After factoring in retirements and departures, that class would bring the number of sworn officers to 820.
Stothert countered that her proposal does more in the 2014 budget year.
“Considering the length of time it takes to train a recruit class, my budget goal will put more officers on the street in 2014 than the new proposal,” Stothert said in a statement.
In fact, the mayor said Wednesday that she planned to fund a 2015 recruiting class that would increase the department's staffing to 825 officers. In 2016, she said, she would increase staffing to 840 officers.
Festersen said his proposal would cost about $1.8 million next year, about the same as Stothert's plan to start a single large class next spring.
That's because his proposal would spread training costs over a longer period. The city would still eventually have to deal with higher overall expenses for police wages and benefits.
“By establishing two recruit classes rather than one, we can accomplish everyone's stated goal of getting more police on our streets more quickly,” Festersen said.
He said his plan will get Omaha to a level “that the city has struggled to reach since 2008, and it does so in a financially responsible manner.”
The timing of each class is still being determined, Festersen said, and he says he has six council votes to support his proposal.
Council members must submit their proposed budget amendments by Wednesday, in advance of an Aug. 27 vote to approve the budget.
Stothert has proposed a roughly $124 million general fund budget for the Police Department. She proposes spending about $3.6 million in bond revenue to replace the department's aging radio equipment, while continuing work to update the cruiser fleet.
Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said he appreciated the council's commitment to public safety.
“We are all on the same page towards increasing police staffing,” Schmaderer said. “We are analyzing the numbers and other factors to see if it is viable to have two police recruit classes in 2014 as a way to boost staffing levels.”
That said, Schmaderer said he would also be comfortable with Stothert's plan.