The Northfield Police Department hopes to hire a fourth patrol sergeant and an evidence technician, purchase body cameras and replace radio equipment within the next two years.

Northfield Police Chief Monte Nelson requested the additional patrol sergeant, which is expected to cost the city $131,000 per year, Tuesday during a City Council 2020-21 budget/levy study session.

“The department seeks to increase supervision,” the Police Department stated in a letter to the council. “Supervision is important to all organizations and crucial in law enforcement. Questions on policy and procedures for handling calls, monitoring performance, coaching, training and counseling, as well as handling scheduling and citizens’ concerns are all important supervisory functions handled by the sergeants.”

The department has three patrol sergeants. Two work night shifts and one works days, leaving an estimated 25 percent of the time without a scheduled patrol sergeant, something the department says “leaves significant gaps in supervision.”

Nelson said he, the deputy chief and sergeant of investigations spend a lot of time away from their duties supervising day shift patrol operations and covering administrative duties that could be performed by an additional day shift sergeant.

“On weekends we currently have a senior officer who covers some of these duties, and a supervisor can be called at home if necessary, but that doesn’t replace the effectiveness of actually having a supervisor working and providing supervision,” the department wrote.

The new sergeant would provide better coverage and take over many administrative duties, including tracking and scheduling vehicle maintenance, equipment installations and other work. The sergeant would also be responsible for organizing and preparing for community events and programs, supervise the emergency management director and organize and expand emergency management preparedness.

Nelson noted the city’s crime rate index increased in 2018, something he does not want to become a recurring theme.

In requesting the hire, Nelson noted Northfield police currently number 23. To match the state average for cities with 10,000 to 25,000 residents, five would need to be hired. Nelson said the lack of officers results in the need for overtime if any are away from the job.

Last year, Nelson requested two police sergeants but only received one. The number of officers at the department is only one more than it was in 2000.

Councilor Jessica Peterson White noted the “dramatic increase” in what the Police Department has to respond to over the last 10 years and attributed that rise to sources outside the city’s control.

“That’s one of the things I am talking about when I talk about how there are other levels of policy decisions that have a profound impact on the work that we do,” she said. “The lack of investment in the social safety net on the part of the state and the county have a big impact on the work that our police officers have to do.

She said she “championed” the staffing increase in the Police Department last year and is likely to again support the department’s request this year.

The Northfield Police Department hopes to have body cameras in place for on-duty officers by 2021.

Chief Nelson hopes the body cameras, made by the company WatchGuard, are included in this year’s budget. He expects there to be a need for 11 to 15 cameras, expected to cost approximately $60,000.

“Today’s society and the court system are demanding more accountability from law enforcement,” the department stated. “Use of body cameras is a great tool to aid law enforcement in producing better evidence, while also being more accountable to their community.”

Faribault Police Department began using body cameras this spring.

The department is also looking to replace the radios it uses after they were discontinued by the manufacturer years ago. Cost is approximately $190,000.

“While most of them still function, we are having difficulty finding replacement parts when one breaks,” the Police Department states. “Additionally, the interoperability of the radios is becoming an issue as more counties in our area move to encrypted channels for police operations.”

If body cameras are approved, police are looking to hire an evidence technician to handle the increased volume of digital video data and related management challenges. If hired on a full-time basis, the hire is expected to cost the city $81,869. If the employee is part time, it will cost $45,837.

“Many departments who are using body cameras have increased staffing to appropriately store, manage, copy and redact the associated digital video,” police state. “If the department invests in body cameras, we will likely need to budget for another evidence technician to properly manage all the additional digital media.”

The Northfield City Council expects to approve the preliminary levy in September. The final levy will be approved in December.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115.

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