Police force not on horizon for Gretna

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Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014 12:00 am

Residents of Gretna aren’t going to see a Gretna Police Department police cruiser on their streets any time soon.

In fact, it’s safe to say an often-discussed future YMCA and aquatics center would likely break ground before city leaders have serious discussions about a police force.

“At this point, there is no time frame for starting a force,” Mayor Jim Timmerman said. “It would be nice if we could have our own force, but at this time the costs associated with startup is just not feasible.”

A discussion of a local police force started when the item came up during a goal setting session for city leaders. But it’s one of the last items on the list of goals for the city, Gretna City Administrator Jeff Kooistra said.

Kooistra calculated some preliminary figures for adding a full-time police force last summer. He said he figured the operating budget alone would be $500,000 a year for a police chief and four officers.

That would provide the city with round-the-clock coverage. He didn’t figure in, however, the costs for reception desk help and other police administrative functions.

In bare-bones startup costs — basically two police cars and uniformed, outfitted officers to drive them — Kooistra said it would be another $160,000. That’s without the specialized equipment to go in the vehicle like the cage and radio equipment. That’s also without an office space, desks, computers or software.

All of those would drive the costs significantly higher.

“It just didn’t pencil out,” Kooistra said. “To me, it didn’t, purely from the financial side of it. We realize as we get bigger, we’re going to have to do something. Now, what that magic time and date and size is, we don’t have that yet.”

Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis, who started his career with the county on the Gretna beat, said he didn’t feel a full-time force was right for the city. Right now, the city pays the sheriff’s office more than $350,000 a year for law enforcement.

“I think it’s something they might think is necessary,” he said. “Personally, I do not. Some calls, all a police department can do is say it’s a civil matter. We handle those. Only sheriff’s (deputies) do that, by statute. For me, I just don’t know that’s a step in the right direction for the city.”

Ahead of the police force on the city’s list of goals are a public works building, designing the Highway 370 and Highway 6/31 corridors and building a YMCA and aquatic center to replace the city pool. After that is finishing the Fields at Gretna recreation complex and improving the downtown area.

All of those have a higher priority than adding a police force right now.

One of the main reasons for that is people are happy with the work done by the sheriff’s office.

“Sarpy County has done an excellent job in providing services to the community,” Timmerman said. “I have not received any complaints from citizens.”

Even when the goals ahead of it are completed, Kooistra said he didn’t know when a police force would get serious consideration.

“What the timeline is, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s not at the top of our list. I’m not putting any time into that right now.

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