By Gordon Larsen
Orem city officials Tuesday night proposed increasing the city?s police force, a need emphasized by a growing population, more high-density housing and the recent shooting of an Orem police officer.
The request for more officers came as part of the Orem city manager?s proposed budget for fiscal year 2005-2006. Jim Reams, Orem city manager, told the council at their bi-weekly meeting that Orem?s police force has simply not kept pace with the population increase. Extra revenue in this year?s budget means they can fill the much-needed positions. Mayor Jerry Washburn agreed, saying it is crucial the city have more officers.
Orem, with about 90,000 residents and only 82 officers, is the lowest-staffed city in Utah Valley. Orem City Police Chief Mike Larsen said the city is also far below the state average. Utah has an average of 1.5 officers for every 1,000 people while Orem has only 0.86 officers for every 1,000 residents. Part of the problem is the small number of officers on duty at one time. Officials try to stagger the officers on duty, explained Larsen, and only 10 to 15 of the 82 officers are normally on duty at any time.
The number of calls in high-density housing complexes is also significant. Such housing is located mostly in southwest Orem and is generally occupied by students and other young adults. The demand for this type of housing has grown dramatically over the last three to five years, Larsen said, and has correspondingly created a higher demand for police service.
?The reason we need more officers is that the demand from the public is increasing?, Larsen said. ?The demand for service is driven by the number of calls we receive.?
Officers responded last year to over 1,500 calls from high-density housing, said Reams, and 92 percent of those calls required at least two officers.
Among the most common situations requiring more than one officer are calls dealing with domestic violence, disturbance, or intoxication, said Larsen.
Highlighting the law enforcement needs of a growing city was an incident last week in which Lt. Phil Murphy was wounded while responding to a domestic dispute. He is recovering in the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
Although Reams? proposal is for three additional officers, more may be needed.
?I asked for six, we settled for three in the proposed budget?, Larsen said.
While the Council is happy to have the extra funds to work with this year, they are still discussing this and other potential uses of funds. The council is expected to finalize the budget and adopt a resolution in July.
?We need these officers to ensure the safety to the public and employees?, Larsen said.