A recent weekend marred by four drive-by shootings in Kennewick gave Police Chief Ken Hohenberg another reason to attend that Monday 6 a.m. roll call.
It also provided more data for his plea to the city's 75,000 residents that more cops are needed on the streets.
Violence related to gang activity prompts Hohenberg and Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane to say it may be time to put another criminal justice sales tax before county voters.
"We need to hire more," Hohenberg told the Herald. "It costs about $100,000 a cop. The challenge is how to pay for them. We either reduce the level of services or see the crime rate increase."
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A similar tax proposal was rejected by 53 percent in November 2007. The next year, voters dismissed it by a 58 percent margin.
Hohenberg and Keane, along with Prosecutor Andy Miller and police chiefs from Richland and West Richland, pressed county commissioners recently about forming a citizens advisory committee to study the criminal justice needs and see if a special tax is justified.
The sheriff, prosecutor and chiefs presented the issue on behalf of the county's Law and Justice Council.
A voter-approved 0.1 percent increase on the sales tax would provide Benton County with about $1.7 million each year. A 0.2 percent increase would double the revenue stream, and a 0.3 percent increase would bring in about $5.2 million for the county and $3.5 million for the cities.
Commissioners gave permission for the Law and Justice Council to form a citizens advisory committee consisting of 15 to 20 people. They will evaluate unmet criminal justice needs, ranging from enforcement to prosecution and incarceration, before deciding to recommend a ballot measure for 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent be put to county voters.
Hohenberg said violence related to gang activity is driving the need for more officers in Kennewick.
"In 2002, we had 1.58 officers on the street for every 1,000 residents. We are now at 1.21 officers, with a population of 75,000," he told the Herald.
Hohenberg said it would take 25 new officers to bring the department back up to 1.58 officers per 1,000 residents.
"I've partnered up every way I can," said Hohenberg, noting the department works in special relationships with other policing agencies from other cities and the county on shared resources, to being teamed with state and federal law enforcement.
"I don't have anymore rabbits to pull out of the hat," Hohenberg added.
Sheriff Keane has a different need -- how to pay for the gang task force.
He has relied on revenue from renting out cells to out-of-county jurisdictions. That so-called "third floor" revenue is critical, but it is getting more difficult to come by, Keane said.
Fewer contracts are being issued and jail costs are rising more quickly than the sheriff anticipated.
"A lot of the expense is due to housing mentally ill people and the medications that go with it," Keane said. "Psychotropic medications are extremely costly."
As those expenses increase, there is less for the gang unit, the sheriff said.
Keane said about $500,000 of the criminal justice tax would support the gang unit.
Some of that money would be shared with juvenile justice, where there long has been a shortage on staffing to handle the detention unit, Keane said.
And some of that money should go to the prosecutor's office, Hohenberg added.
Putting more officers on the street in Kennewick will affect other areas of the criminal justice system, the chief said. It would add to the prosecuting attorney's office work load, put more people in jail and could drive the criminal activity into other jurisdictions -- an undesirable but likely result of stepped up suppression on criminals, Hohenberg said.
Richland Chief Chris Skinner said he likely would use his estimated annual share of $400,000 for prevention and intervention programs.
West Richland Chief Brian McElroy told commissioners he also supported the idea of a citizens' advisory committee.
"We want the advice of the committee to identify needs so we can figure out what the priorities are," Keane said. "We know we can't fix everything. We have to do the things that matter, and our primary job is public safety."
Hohenberg said advisory committee members should be community leaders who have the knowledge of priorities and service levels.
"All the cities have different needs," Hohenberg said. "We are concerned about a tax, but we want to make the public aware of our needs."