Charleston’s proposed city budget for 2014 would provide for the hiring of 10 new police officers, plus full funding for eight officers who started partway through 2013.
Of the 10 new officers, two would be assigned to DUI enforcement and would be entirely paid for from a federal grant administered by state government. Eight would be Community Action Team officers assigned to work in the Neck and upper peninsula area, including the Rosemont, Bridgeview, and Athens Court neighborhoods. Those officers would be largely funded by a Community Oriented Policing Services grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, and the city would have to pitch in $150,000 in the first year. The city’s share of the tax burden for those officers would increase in subsequent years, according to city CFO Steve Bedard.
Police Chief Greg Mullen says the Neck area has historically been plagued by violent, property, and drug-related crimes, and that while the rates have gone down in recent years, “we still see some underlying problems in those neighborhoods that more direct attention by officers would help break the cycle.”
The police department already has Community Action Teams assigned to the Eastside neighborhood and a swath of West Ashley that includes Ardmore, Ashleyville, and Maryville. “The same officers work there every day, and they’re consistently getting to know the people in those areas, looking to solve problems, not just respond to calls for service,” Mullen says. “They’re very proactive, and they get involved with children’s programs and do what they can to prevent crime in these neighborhoods.”
In addition to the 10 new officers, eight officers were hired in October specifically to work in the Late-Night Entertainment District, funded by a transfer from the city’s hospitality tax to the general fund. 2014 would be the first year in which those officers’ salaries are funded for a full year in the city budget, at a cost of $600,000.
While the 2014 budget includes no tax increases, the budget is being raised from $163.5 million to $172.8 million based on a projected increase in revenues. Charleston City Council passed a first reading of its 2014 budget on Dec. 3. A final vote on the budget will come at the Dec. 17 Council meeting.
In other police news, the Department of Justice turned down the Charleston Police Department’s application for a $500,000 predictive policing grant that would have helped pay for IBM software that uses historic crime data to predict when and where certain types of crime will occur. Mullen says the department will continue seeking grant money for the predictive policing project.
“One of our underlying goals is to get that in place,” Mullen says. “We might not be able to do it as big as what we wanted to initially, but we’re going to get it in place next year.”
Part of Mullen’s plan for 2014 is to set up a real-time operations center in office space that was vacated when police dispatchers moved to Charleston County’s consolidated 911 center. He says he hopes to pay for the high-tech center with a combination of grant money and existing city funds.
“We’ll bring together all the data for the predictive policing, we’ll bring together all the cameras that we have in the city, and then we’ll put our analysts there,” Mullen says. “So not only will they be able to do strategic analysis, looking at trends and patterns, but they’ll also be able to help officers from a tactical level. If we have a bank robbery or a shooting situation, as those officers are responding, the analysts can be pulling information up about possible suspects, putting that out to the officers even as they are responding … It’s just pulling it all together in one place.”
Mullen says he hopes to have the space renovated in the first quarter of 2014 and have software installed in the second quarter.