Gunnison Valley Police Department reports understaffing leading to reduced citations
By Robert Stevens
GUNNISON—Officers of the unified Gunnison Valley Police Department met with Gunnison City Council last Wednesday to report on what is going on within the department.
The meeting happened at the request of city leadership, who want to stay informed about the direction of the police department.
“I am sure you understand where we are coming from,” said Gunnison City Mayor Lori Nay to the officers at the meeting. “Half a million dollars of our budget goes to the police department.”
Councilman Shawn Crane said, if possible, the city would like to see quarterly reports from the GVPD moving forward.
Nay asked GVPD Chief Brett McCall about why the number of citations issued so far in 2020 were so much lower than the previous year. According to McCall, approximately 78 citations had been issued so far.
“If we were to be on the same pace as last year, we’d be at 151,” Nay said. “Do we have less people on the streets? What’s the difference with this?”
McCall said the reduced amount of citations for things like seatbelt tickets and other traffic stops is mostly due to being understaffed.
According to McCall, the department didn’t have the funding to hire a new full-time officer to help out, but they were trying to find more part-timers.
“We’ve lost four part time people who would typically come out and do extra patrol shifts,” McCall told the council. “We are working on the problem now, but its slim pickings trying to find police officers around here.”
A big reason for the difficulty in enticing police officers to picking up part-time shifts with the GVPD is mostly due to a disparity in wage offering, said Officer Carl Wimmer, who was also in attendance.
“It’s been cutthroat,” Wimmer said. “Now agencies are in a wage war. It’s stunning the amount of money they are paying police officers now. All of our part time guys have left to other agencies that pay more. It’s a serious problem, statewide.”
McCall told the council that they are trying to get the short staffing situation fixed. Nay asked him how many the department could use.
“Heck, I‘d take seven or eight,” McCall said. “When I was in Centerfield, I had 12. All I can say for now is these guys work their tails off and we are trying to get more help.”
Councilwoman Stella Hill said she wanted to thank Officer Tyler Donaldson for responding to a recent call from her in the early hours of the morning.
“He responded very quickly,” she said. “I had no idea we didn’t have more officers.”
McCall offered that the council could come in to the department office and watch body camera footage from the GVPD officers if they are ever curious about what kind of work the department does on a regular basis.
“I realize the numbers don’t really reflect what you are doing out there,” said Councilman Justin Mellor. “I admire you all and what you do. Don’t ever feel like you are not appreciated.”
Mellor asked if there was anything the department might need from the city that would help them.
McCall said they were doing ok right now besides looking for part-timers.
“We are living within our means,” he told the council. “All we need is support from you.”
According to McCall, a number of very high dollar purchases, such as body cameras and in-car cameras have been accomplished through grant funding, so they cost the department and the city nothing.
“We take advantage of all we can,” McCall said. “Everything we can get for free, we are gobbling up.”
Crane said he realizes most citizens will never know the real scope of what the officers do in the regular duties, but more visible presence would be a good thing.
“If they see you out and about, it’s the best thing in the world,” Crane said. “To them, they may not know what you are doing in the background, but if at all possible, if you can be visible and out there where they can see you, the public will be happier.”
Wimmer added, “I have worked for four police departments. I have honestly not worked with a more professional group of officers. You’ll get more value out of these four officers than you would from 20 in West Valley. They are dedicated to serving this community.”