Annual savings from the salary for the city's public safety director will help Lincoln hire six new police officers, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said Thursday.
The mayor announced the effort flanked by Chief Jeff Bliemeister, police captains and members of the Lincoln Police Union.
Gaylor Baird had campaigned on increasing the size of the police force to keep up with city growth and had proposed using the budgeted salary for former public safety director Tom Casady to pay for new officers after his retirement earlier this year.
"We wanted to do more than two officers if we could," the mayor said, crediting the budget analysis of police department officials for making it possible.
The position's salary covers only the full salary and benefits of two police officers, but the police department will re-prioritize spending in its 2020-2021 budget to cover the $435,000 cost to add six officers, according to city officials.
City growth in the last decade and the proliferation of electronic evidence from cellphones and surveillance cameras have stretched thin the 348-officer department, Bliemeister said.
The police union, which endorsed Gaylor Baird during the election, has long complained the police force is understaffed compared to peer cities.
"This is a step in the right direction," Lincoln Police Union President Chris Milisits said.
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The six new officers will increase the size of the force by five, because Casady was a commissioned officer when he retired.
Casady was paid more than $173,000 last year and has been the city's highest-paid employee for several years.
The new officers would start in the police academy in January 2020 and be on their own by November, allowing six veteran officers to be reassigned to new positions.
Five veteran officers would become investigators on the five geographic teams and help do follow-up work on investigations stemming from regular calls for service that are ordinarily worked by the officer responding to the case.
The sixth veteran officer would work on preventing child abuse, child sexual assault and child sex-trafficking, in part by reviewing the department's missing and runaway children cases, Bliemeister said.
Center Team Capt. Don Scheinost said these new investigators will help expedite follow-up work that often gets set aside when the patrol officer's calls for service stack up.
"Those never go away, and it's just going to free them up a little bit more and allow them to do other things they can't do when they're busy doing follow-up," Scheinost said.
Only a month on the job, Gaylor Baird said she's long been an advocate for improving staffing levels for the police department, and it was important to her to hit the ground running.
"When we talked about public safety being a top priority, we meant it," she said.
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