11/28/2014

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Shortage of YPD officers could mean longer response times

Shortage of YPD officers could mean longer response times
YAKIMA, Wash. -- The police department is still facing an uphill battle to becoming fully staffed. KIMA has learned YPD is operating with a shortage of 18 officers.

Sunny Lee Johnson knows what it's like to be stuck waiting for help from the police. A gang shooting left people in his neighborhood worried they were in danger.

"A neighbor called the cops and they didn't show up for a good 30, 45 minutes instead of, you know, normally a gang fight, they're there in two minutes," he said.

YPD currently has openings for eight officers. An additional ten are in the academy or field training. That's 18 openings that aren't currently filled. The patrol division feels the shortage the most. KIMA asked if fewer officers means longer response times.

"If they're all tied up then, yes, we respond by priority to calls," said Capt. Rod Light, a Yakima Police Department spokesperson.

An example of a priority case would be last month, when two people were shot at a concert outside the Seasons Performance Hall. Police say lower-priority cases can take up to two to three hours to respond to. A less serious case could be finding your house was burglarized, but that the burglar already left.

"It's not because we're not doing our job or not wanting to do our job, it's they don't have the available free unit to respond. It's because they're handling more serious matters," said Capt. Light.

Police say officers on their way to serious cases also have to prioritize, meaning they might not be able to give traffic violations they might normally stop for.

"I'm the one that has to ultimately look over my shoulder and protect myself," said Johnson.

YPD says they've learned to operate on a shortage without compromising your safety. Still, neighbors like Sunny Lee can't help but be more aware of their surroundings.

Full staff for the Yakima Police Department is 147. Finding qualified candidates is the biggest challenge, especially as more officers are retiring. When an officer retires it can take two and a half years before a replacement is hired, trained, and ready to work alone.
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