Coupeville deputies moving on
By ELISABETH MURRAY
Whidbey Examiner Staff
September 20, 2012 · Updated 11:02 AM
The 24-hour patrol services provided by the Coupeville Marshal’s Office may have come to an end – at least for awhile.
Within a three-month period, the town will lose 75 percent of its deputy force. Two members of the town’s police force have already left, and one has given notice that he will leave in mid-October.
Deputy James Covert’s last work day was on Aug. 24, while Deputy Adrian Kuschnereit departed on Sept. 1 and Deputy Chris Peabody will leave next month.
“I have spoken with all three and there is no indicator that there is a problem in the department,” Marshal Lance Davenport said. “I have heard directly that the department is moving in the right direction.”
According to Davenport, Kuschnereit accepted a position with the Burlington Police Department because of the increase in pay and opportunities for professional development and advancement.
Davenport declined to comment on Covert’s departure, but said it was not performance related.
Peabody has signed a conditional offer of employment with the Oak Harbor Police Department and expects to begin his new job around Nov. 1. Davenport said police pay in Oak Harbor is significantly higher than in Coupeville.
The Town of Coupeville pays its deputies significantly less than all other surrounding jurisdictions, Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said.
A full-time Coupeville deputy is paid between $43,720 to $49,170 per year, plus benefits. The marshal’s annual salary is $63,752 per year, with payment in lieu of benefits. The pay range for an Oak Harbor police officer is $57,792 to $72,240 per year, plus benefits.
Coupeville recently created a position for a higher-paid sergeant to serve as a mid-tier position with additional responsibilities beyond that of a deputy. Once filled, the position would replace a deputy position.
As a result of the unprecedented turnover, the Coupeville Town Council will begin discussing several options for law enforcement: Reorganize the department, raise taxes to pay for higher deputy salaries, or contract out for services from Island County or even Oak Harbor.
“It’s really disappointing because we’ve got some folks who really like our community and like being here, but they’re in places in their career and families where they need to make more money than what we can afford to pay them,” Conard said.
City must find new deputies
The town began the process of filling two deputy vacancies in August when it announced the position online and in the local papers.
Of the 15 individuals who applied, five – three who are new to police work and two with prior experience – are being considered for employment following screening by the town’s Civil Service Commission.
Davenport said that he supports hiring a lateral-entry applicant because preparing such a candidate for patrol work takes less time than for a recruit new to police work.
If an entry-level deputy is hired, he or she would first need to attend an academy class, which takes about 18 weeks, followed by about 12 weeks of field training.
The next academy class does not begin until mid-December and a new recruit would not be ready for independent duty for seven to eight months.
The hiring process itself could take between six to eight weeks to complete, Davenport said.
Staffing shortage in near term
Because of the departures and the length of time involved in hiring replacements, there will be a significant amount of time in which only one or two deputies will be on duty.
“The shortage of personnel will require a mix of active patrol duties along with periods of on-call time which will ensure 24-hour response,” Davenport wrote in a memo to the council.
Conard said the schedule of when the deputies are on-call or on patrol will vary.
The town will also invite officers from the Island County Sheriff’s Office and the Oak Harbor Police Department to pick up shifts in Coupeville outside of their regular duties.
The regular hourly rate for a town deputy is $23.64 plus benefits, and if they pick up an extra shift they are paid time and a half. Officers brought in from outside are paid $30 per hour.
“While not ideal, we are fortunate to have established strong relationships with both the Sheriff’s Office and Oak Harbor, both of which have allowed their personnel to serve as reserve officers for the Marshal’s Office,” Davenport said.
Several sheriff’s deputies and Oak Harbor officers already have offered their services.
Most live in Coupeville, and some are former Coupeville deputies, Davenport said.
Department mulls reorganization
Conard said that of the options available, the best would be reorganization of the department.
That could involve permanently eliminating one deputy position. The salary and benefits would then be reallocated to the remaining three deputies and make the positions more competitive with other agencies in Island County.
“There simply is not enough money in the budget to get on par with other agencies (and keep all four positions),” Davenport said.
Like the short-term plan, some shifts would be covered by an on-call deputy or a reserve deputy, and 24-hour patrol services would become a thing of the past.
However, Davenport said, development of the town’s reserve program and the inclusion of officers from other agencies would help shore up patrol services.
“We can measure it, try it and see how it works,” Conard said.