Plain clothes police officers targeting Pasco gang-related crimes might be the first fruit of the new public safety sales tax.
Pasco City Council will consider Monday whether to start the hiring process for four officers to replace the experienced officers who will form the new street crimes unit.
Gang suppression was one of the intended uses of the 0.3 percent public safety sales tax 61 percent of county voters approved in November. The sales tax also will be used to pay for Pasco Municipal Court space, a Pasco Police Station and a new and remodeled Franklin County jail.
While the county receives 60 percent of the revenue, the remaining 40 percent will be divided among Franklin County cities based on their population.
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The sales tax revenue makes creating the street crimes unit possible, said Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger.
The additional officers, equipment and training will cost about $400,000 a year, said city manager Gary Crutchfield.
Pasco likely will receive between $600,000 and $700,000 this year, he said. April will be the first month that additional sales tax for public safety will be collected. In 2013, when there is a full year of the sales tax collected, the city may receive about $1 million.
"We can afford four officers with that new revenue stream and still be able to accomplish the other two projects over time," Crutchfield said.
Four officers will be enough to make the unit work, he said.
The officers will work independently of the patrol officers and target certain crimes to pursue for arrests, Metzger said. The crimes will be prioritized and could include anything from burglaries to auto theft.
And although most of the crimes likely will be gang related, the officers also will deal with the crimes on their list when they aren't committed by gang members, he said.
"We just want to make sure that we don't miss anything when it comes to crimes," Metzger said.
Pursuing arrests for those crimes will get the perpetrators off the street and send a message to others, Metzger said.
"If you want to commit crimes, this isn't the place to do it," he said.
The unit also will work with other agencies and departments to maintain community safety, Metzger said.
Pasco plans to put the unit together as quickly as possible. It will take about six months to train new officers after they are hired, Metzger said.
That is unless Pasco is able to hire trained police officers from another agency, Crutchfield said.
"It's not going to happen tomorrow, but it is going to happen this year," Metzger said.
Crutchfield expects residents will see some success from the new unit by this time next year.
At the same time, the city and county have been discussing including municipal court space in the jail project. The city's lease of space in the county courthouse ends in May, and county departments need additional space.
That will require negotiating a long-term lease agreement for the space and extending the city's current lease until the new space is ready for use, Crutchfield said.
The police station likely will need to wait at least a year or two, Crutchfield said.
Franklin County officials are fine-tuning planning for the new jail, which County Administrator Fred Bowen said they hope to have out to bid by August. Plans haven't changed.
"We really did all of our homework before we took it to the vote of the people," he said.
About $17.8 million for the construction of the jail would come from two-thirds of the county's portion of the sales tax. The county plans to use the other one third, about $500,000 to $600,000 a year, for operational costs.
The county jail is crowded and worn out. Last week, it housed 205 people, which is more than twice what the space is meant to hold.
The design for the expanded jail is meant to limit operation and maintenance costs. The two-tiered building will have cell blocks arranged in a wheel around a small area where the overhead master control booth hangs. An officer inside it would control the interlocked doors and monitor the cells by sight and video.
"There is no frills in this," Bowen said.
In front of the expansion will be a two-story building that likely will house Pasco Municipal Court on the first floor and the sheriff's office, information services and dispatch on the second floor.
Doors to the new buildings are expected to open in summer 2013, Bowen said.
But the remodel of the existing jail will take several months longer, said Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim. The plan is to return the current jail to about 89 maximum-security beds.
Those months will be tough logistically because the county won't be able to completely vacate the existing jail. But the end result will be great for public safety, he said.
Connell has not decided exactly how its portion of the sales tax revenue will be used. Some possibilities include any needed equipment upgrades or capital projects for the police department, said Connell City Administrator Steve Taylor. It also could be used to offset additional costs for dispatch if Benton and Franklin counties merge emergency dispatch centers.
Connell may receive about $50,000 from the sales tax this year since the tax doesn't go into effect until April, Taylor said.