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The 2024 local police budget, which was approved by Village Council earlier this year, is $1,938,908 — the most expensive slice of the Village’s annual budget. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

YS Police Department fully staffed — a first in five years

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For the first time since Yellow Springs Police Chief Paige Burge assumed leadership of the local police force in 2021, her department is fully staffed.

Now, the Yellow Springs Police Department is composed of 19 employees: seven dispatchers, one community outreach specialist, one property manager and 10 officers — three of whom were recently hired and are still in training.

“It’s such a relief,” Burge said in an interview earlier this week. “My officers and I are now able to do so much more for the community.”

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The last time Yellow Springs police had this many employees was in 2019, when Burge was hired as a full-time officer and former chief Brian Carlson was at the helm.

Despite this influx of new staffers, Dave Meister remains the only officer on the force to live in the village.

As Burge told the News, and as she reported in her annual state-of-the-department memo, provided to Council before the group’s most recent meeting on Monday, May 6, retaining current officers and recruiting new ones were the most significant challenges of 2023.

“It’s not just this department,” Burge said. “Retention and recruitment are some of the biggest challenges for law enforcement as a whole. We’re in, nationally, what the Department of Justice last year called a ‘hiring crisis.’”

A 2022 study by Rice University Professor of Economics Richard Boylan corroborates this: Over 500 U.S. municipalities with populations of 1,000 to 200,000 disbanded from policing between 1972 and 2017.

Then — as Burge suggested — retention and recruitment dipped even lower following the nationwide criticism of police that followed the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, while other officers watched, around the same time as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many workers “went remote.”

“Why would you sign up to work nights, weekends and holidays when you could make decent money from your couch?” Burge said. “Post 2020, hiring for law enforcement was at an all-time low.”

Furthermore, Burge said the Yellow Springs Police Department has struggled to keep pace with nearby, larger departments that offer greater worker benefits, including higher pensions and schedule flexibility, as well as sign-on bonuses.

“We’ve always been a well-paying department despite our size,” she said. “But there are some things that we can never compete with. We’re not union[ized] and we don’t have a collective bargaining agreement that could get us better benefits.”

To reverse the tide and bring her staff numbers to where Burge believed they should be, she initiated several new policies in 2023: She established a “shift differential” system, in which police officers working nights or longer shifts are paid a higher rate, as well as created a recruit program, wherein recruits are paid to attend police academy and are granted a full-time hourly rate for a guaranteed 36 months upon their graduation.

“That recruitment program was the most beneficial change we made last year,” Burge said. “We’re paying an up-front cost — an investment — to bring in more people who are invested in this community.”

According to Burge, police academy tuition costs around $5,300, and starting pay for recruits is $27.08 per hour. After instating that recruitment program last year, the police department received 51 applications, Burge said. Three were hired in recent weeks.

Owing to last year’s staffing challenges and the subsequent overtime pay, personnel costs accounted for the vast majority of the department’s $1.3 million budget for 2023. While YSPD spent only $1.08 million of that budget, personnel costs came in at $869,952.

Despite the bigger department, Burge said she believes 2024’s personnel costs will largely resemble last year’s. According to her, fewer overtime costs will offset the additional wages.

“Officers are now freed up to be more engaged,” Burge said. “Their approach will be more aligned with what my team is looking to accomplish: to take our time, work with people one-on-one more and find peaceful, alternate resolutions to problems. Ultimately, our officers will be less stressed — myself included.”

Burge added that, in the coming months, villagers can expect added traffic monitoring, bike patrols and business checks from officers who “now have the time to take those special assignments.”

The 2024 local police budget, which was approved by Village Council earlier this year, is $1,938,908 — still the most expensive slice of the Village’s budget. Consistent with last and previous years, Burge said she believes her department will operate under that budget.

In other YS Police Department business—

Calls for service

In Burge’s end-of-2023 report provided to Council last week, she outlined her department’s response to local incidents by type and frequency.

Of last year’s 8,484 incidents to which Yellow Springs Police responded, the largest number was business checks at 1,527 — mostly owing to faulty alarms, Burge said. The next highest incident reports included calls for extra patrol, officer assists, house checks, community policing, then others.

According to Burge’s department data, incidents rose over the last three years, climbing from a 2021 low of 7,334. Incidents peaked in recent years in 2020 at 9,875.

Of 2023’s 93 criminal incidents, theft occurred the most frequently. As Burge told the News, that category includes anything from shoplifting to grand larceny. Though, as Burge noted, virtual and phone-based money-seeking scams contributed to that bloated number of local thefts.

“We have seen such a dramatic uptick in scams,” Burge said. “And those scams aren’t just targeting the elderly. They can happen to any one of us. What makes it difficult for law enforcement is that so many people don’t report it until it’s already happened — until it’s too late.”

In an effort to mitigate scams targeting local bank accounts, Burge said that some of her officers have held and continue to host educational programs to ward off digital predators. Officer Doug Andrus, she said, has spent a number of hours at Friends Care Community informing the center’s residents of how to detect threats. Additionally, Community Outreach Specialist Florence Randolph works with Adult Protective Services and the county’s Council on Aging to help senior citizens impacted by scams to find recourse.

Biased traffic stops?

Also in Burge’s 2023 recap was data pertaining to the year’s number of officer-instigated traffic stops, which totaled 203.

According to her report, more nonresidents were stopped than village residents — 156 compared to 47. Of last year’s 203 stops, 99 involved white men, 60 involved white women and 27 involved Black men — the three highest traffic stop demographics.

Within that data, though, some disproportionality appears. Whereas Black residents account for 9% of the Yellow Springs population, according to the 2020 census, Black drivers accounted for 17% of traffic stops in 2023.

However, Burge told the News that those statistics — that she also shared publicly with Village Council — may be unreliable.

“There are a couple of different factors to consider here,” Burge said. “Our reporting was skewed, for one. We use a clunky program that’s not user-friendly, and our report on demographics referenced not just traffic stops but also citations — so if a person was pulled over and cited, they were double-counted.”

Burge said that more up-to-date and accurate data on last year’s traffic stops will be made available soon.

She added: “In my opinion, the areas that we spend the most time with our traffic enforcement are thoroughfares — where people are coming and going. So, when we look at demographics in the village against those of surrounding communities, I think we’re really more in line with traffic stop demographics that are consistent with Springfield, Xenia, Fairborn and Enon — all of whose residents regularly cut through Yellow Springs.”

Burge also pointed out that she and her fellow officers are annually required to undergo implicit bias training, and that her department receives a yearly audit from the Ohio Collaborative Community Police Advisory Board as well as other state policing agencies that monitor hiring practices, arrests, traffic stops and more.

Body-worn cameras

Another notable difference in policing that began in 2023 was the implementation of body-worn cameras.

Early last year, the village police department received a grant from the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services for $14,472 to cover the costs of the first contract year. Now, a year into officers wearing body cameras, Chief Burge said little has changed.

“Which I think is a good thing,” she said. “If we had seen a significant change, then that would mean something was totally wrong before. In terms of complaints, things we’ve observed, nothing is different.”

Burge continued: “What I think people often understate is how body-worn cameras change the behavior of both the officer and the citizen; you typically see a decrease in use of force and escalation from all parties. They can be an oversight for everyone involved.”

Per an internal audit of their usage of body-worn cameras, four policy violations were identified — with each of those, Burge explained, stemming from officers forgetting to notify citizens that they were being filmed.

“We’re getting better about that,” Burge said.

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