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Puyallup considers adding 4 new positions at city jail. Consultant recommended additions

The City of Puyallup’s proposed 2020 budget includes an added five full-time positions, four of which would be new hires for the city jail.

The proposed new jailers are the second phase of the police department’s increased staffing as recommended by a consultant. City employees presented their budget to the City Council last week.

The police department, which accounts for 43 percent of the proposed 2020 budget, would see an increase of $1,485,972 next year, including adding two sergeants and two officers to the current corrections staff.

Puyallup Police Chief Scott Engle told the City Council on Oct. 8 the jail’s current staffing levels are causing a “burden” to the rest of the department.

The corrections division has 13 employees. Engle said that’s not enough to meet the jail’s needs. A consultant hired by the city for $62,000 in 2018 agreed. Matrix Consulting concluded there are some significant resource needs in the department.

The municipal jail holds up to 52 misdemeanor offenders and holds inmates that are awaiting sentencing or trial. Some jurisdictions, like Milton and Pierce County, lease out beds on an as-needed basis.

There are times when the jail is overseen by one officer. That’s not good, the consulting firm reported.

“Due to the nature of jail operations and to promote a safe environment for both jail staff and inmates, it is important to have more than one officer in the jail at all times,” according to the firm’s report.

The new hires could increase staffing to a mandatory of two officers supervising the jail at all times, Engle said.

At the current size, patrol officers have to help transport offenders to the hospital or drive felons to the Pierce County Jail, tasks that are considered responsibilities of correctional officers, Engle told the council.

By adding staff to the jail, Engle believes the patrol officers will have more time for their own responsibilities.

The study recommended five new positions in the jail, including an employee who would coordinate alternatives to incarceration, like rehabilitation, electronic home confinement and life skills training to help keep people out of jail. Engle said the department was not ready to implement such a position because more conversations need to be held to coordinate with courts.

The council approved six new officers last year. Engle told the council on Oct. 8 the department has had incremental improvements to patrol officers’ workload, but with several of the hires still training, it’s too soon to see the full effects.

The chief said if his request for four new jailers is approved, the jail’s staffing would be sustainable if the voters approved a new public safety building.

The council has not yet voted to put the measure before the voters. The proposal would increase property taxes to pay for an $87.5 million public safety building in South Hill. The vote has been halted until after a new council is sworn in next January and an architecture firm has concluded whether the current police station downtown could be renovated instead of moving operations to South Hill.

City Council member Julie Door said she believes the new jail positions are necessary, but she will take the added funding for new jailers into consideration as the council deliberates funding possibilities for the new public safety building.

Council member Cyndy Jacobsen said public safety is a top priority and that she supports the added positions.

“If you don’t have police, you don’t have anything,” Jacobsen said.

The position not connected to the jail would help Developmental Services with a new permitting program.

Budget hearings

The public can comment on the proposed 2020 budget on the following dates. The hearings begin at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers:

First reading: Nov. 12

Second reading and vote: Nov. 19

Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.
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