City Council Corner
Happy Birthday, CHPD!
By Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore
In September, the Cottonwood Heights Police Department (CHPD) marked five years since it began patrolling our city streets. In that five years, remarkable strides have been made in community policing efforts, neighborhood watch and especially impaired driving enforcement.
CHPD is frequently featured in news stories about the positive things they do for the community, especially for finding and arresting criminals who prey upon our residents. In fact, CHPD’s clearance rate for cases of violent crimes is 91 percent, compared to a national average of only 50 percent.
However, CHPD’s overall effectiveness and the reasoning behind initiatives such as its focus on reducing impaired driving have recently been in the spotlight. I’ve noticed that there are usually three main topics of discussion that revolve around CHPD: the cost of self-providing law enforcement services, the department’s strict enforcement of DUI and impaired driving laws, and whether our officers write tickets to generate revenue for the city. I’d like to address those three topics as thoroughly as possible in this brief article.
Isn’t it expensive to operate our own police department?
As a city council, our highest priority is the safety of our citizens. When the issue of whether or not to provide our own police services arose soon after the city’s incorporation, we dedicated much time and serious thought to our options over the course of many months. After thoroughly reviewing the feasibility study and listening to the varying opinions of existing service providers and city residents, we felt that the best choice would be to form our own police department. We were confident that we could provide high-quality services to our own residents at costs that were similar to the cost of contracting for those services with an outside agency. But the decision wasn’t solely about cost; it was also about the level of service we would have received.
Since forming CHPD, we have seen that our instincts were correct. We have 37 sworn officers and a support staff of eight people who are dedicated to this community and its residents. That is about one officer per thousand residents, which is a common benchmark for police staffing. CHPD has been recognized as a proactive and well-run department with awards such as the Commissioner’s Excellence in Traffic Safety Award at last year’s Zero Fatalities Summit. This year, Chief Robby Russo was honored by his peers at the Utah Chiefs of Police Association as Chief of the Year for mid-size agencies.
One comparative benchmark to ascertain whether our police services are cost effective is to compare to another option. If Cottonwood Heights were to join the Unified Police District, the taxes levied on citizens for police services from UPD would be almost $500,000 more than the current CHPD budget. That is nearly a ten percent increase in cost. We are satisfied that the cost of providing this very important service is fiscally constrained and comparatively affordable. We believe we get high value for the dollars invested in public safety for our citizens.
Why does CHPD focus their efforts on removing impaired drivers from the city’s roadways?
The unique location of our city--at the western edge of two of the country’s most beautiful and well-loved canyons with three freeway access points along the city’s northern border--means Cottonwood Heights accommodates a great deal of traffic from motorists who are travelling through our city but don’t necessarily live or work here. Because of the high traffic volume, there is also a higher risk of impaired drivers using our roadways.
Each year, nearly 12,000 people nationwide are killed in crashes involving intoxicated drivers and another 300,000 people are injured. Impaired driving results in an estimated annual cost to society of $129.7 billion. In Utah, 12 percent of fatal crashes involved a driver under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher.
These statistics are sobering, and we are dedicated to keeping these highly preventable accidents from affecting Cottonwood Heights residents. Accordingly, CHPD has consistently emphasized DUI enforcement as part of its community policing efforts. Since Sept. 1, 2008, CHPD has processed 1,202 DUI-related cases. In fiscal year 2012-2013 alone, CHPD removed 247 impaired drivers from streets throughout the city. (Please see the accompanying map of the locations of those 247 incidents.)
We believe this strict approach to DUI enforcement has led to considerably safer streets and a marked decrease in alcohol-related accidents in Cottonwood Heights. The most important indicator of CHPD’s success has been the effect community policing has had on the safety of our residents. During the last five years, CHPD has investigated 360 traffic accidents with injuries, five of which ended in fatalities. However, because we have significantly increased our DUI enforcement, I am happy to say that there have been no alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the city since 2009.
We will not limit or apologize for strict DUI enforcement in the city. Taking impaired drivers off the road is the most effective way we know of to reduce vehicle accidents and the related personal injury and property damage.
Do CHPD officers write tickets in order to generate revenue for the city?
There is a common misconception that police departments write traffic tickets to generate enough revenue to fund their departments. Though traffic tickets do generate some revenue that is applied to the city’s general fund, the net court revenue received by the city would account for only 2.95 percent of the total police expenses.
Let me demonstrate this concept by referring to figures from our most recent completed fiscal year. During fiscal year 2012-2013, Cottonwood Heights adjudicated 4,214 cases through our joint justice court with Holladay. These cases included misdemeanor and traffic citations. The total amount of fines and fees collected through those cases on behalf of Cottonwood Heights was $786,005. Of that total, $264,809 was claimed by the State of Utah for court surcharges. Since we share justice court services with Holladay, our share of last year’s court costs took another $364,886 from the total revenue. This left Cottonwood Heights with net revenue of $156,310 from cases adjudicated through the justice court, or just 20 percent of the total gross revenue.
CHPD officers write traffic tickets with the goal of changing and improving driving habits, not to provide for their own livelihood. As a city council, we make sure to fund our police department adequately so that residents aren’t subjected to excessive police tactics or arbitrary fines and fees.
Though our officers are human and on occasion will make mistakes just like anyone else, I believe we have some of the best trained and most dedicated officers in the state. We get our money’s worth with every dollar we spend on public safety in Cottonwood Heights. Happy fifth birthday, CHPD!