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The Utah Department of Public Safety says violent crime is increasing, but that it’s losing officers to higher-paying jobs

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich speaks at a news conference in Taylorsville, June 29, 2016. He says rising crime and an increasing "wage war" among law-enforcement agencies have created a crunch at the Department of Public Safety.

Utah has recently faced an increase in violent crime, but without more money and manpower, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) warns it may remain understaffed while trying to face this new trend.

In a presentation Wednesday before the state Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, DPS officials outlined many of their growing concerns regarding employee retention and additional measures that need to be taken.

Utah Highway Patrol Col. Mike Rapich said law enforcement agencies are currently in the midst of a “wage war” where officers are leaving their current positions for higher-paying alternatives.

“In the last nine to 10 months, we have lost six of our really veteran road troopers,” said Rapich. “We’ve lost them specifically to this increasing wage war.”

Even with a recent measure to increase wages for officers, there is still a struggle for DPS to remain competitive and retain its current employees.

The shrinking pool of available officers is coming at a time of increasing crime, DPS said. Its most recent statewide crime report showed an overall 8.4 percent increase in indexed crimes from 2014-15 — with a 13.7 percent jump in violent crime.

Evidence backlog

Employee shortages are consistent in other areas as law enforcement’s evidence management programs are struggling to process, store and dispose of the growing amount of evidence that is being brought in.

The state has a disposal rate of only 19 percent, which means each year sees a carryover of evidence that continually overcrowds the state’s already understaffed facilities, said Rapich.

DPS has requested an ongoing appropriation of $500,000 that would bring on six full-time employees to bring the evidence disposal rate to more than 70 percent, according to DPS estimates.

“By taking that responsibility off [our current staff] we anticipate, conservatively, putting 5,700 hours of trooper time back on the road,” said Rapich.

911

In order to help coordinate those troopers, DPS also requested $450,000 to hire six additional 911 dispatchers as many rural communities in Utah have times when only a single dispatcher is available on a shift. In that scenario, anything from a high-speed chase to a bathroom break can overwhelm a dispatcher and limit the communications to other officers. The requested funds would allow additional staff to cover these shifts and ensure 24/7 staffing.

Long-term fix

DPS and legislators noted that the increased violent crime rate is alarming, but DPS is already putting together a plan for a long-term solution. Another proposal asked for $220,000 ongoing and a $60,000 one-time funding in order to bring on an investigator and intelligence analyst to help reduce firearms-related crimes through intelligence-led policing.

“Intelligence-led policing is just data analysis to put your resources where they need to be in order to reduce crime,” explained DPS Division Director Brian Redd.

These methods were at the heart of Operation Rio Grande, and Redd said DPS planned to use similar planning with local law enforcement to target and increase efforts in areas where violent crime is especially high.

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