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Willmar, Minn., police chief seeks approval for two officer hires

A Willmar Police Department squad car is pictured Friday near the Kandiyohi County Jail. Willmar Police Chief David Wyffels is requesting City Council permission to hire a replacement for an officer who will resign at the end of January and another who resigned last year. The patrol positions have been affected by the openings, with crime prevention officer Marilee Dorn temporarily reassigned to the patrol unit. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Willmar Police Chief David Wyffels is requesting City Council permission to hire a replacement for an officer who will resign at the end of January. Wyffels is also requesting permission to fill a position vacated by an officer who resigned last year.

Wyffels wants to replace Officer Bridget Coit, who the chief said has served for more than 5½ years and is an exceptional officer. Also, Wyffels wants to fill the position left vacant by Officer Christian Berg who resigned last July.

Wyffels and City Administrator Charlene Stevens submitted the requests to the council's Labor Relations Committee and the committee voted this week to recommend the council approve the requests when the council meets Tuesday.

Stevens said the police department has 19 patrol positions. In order to maintain standard core services, crime prevention officer Marilee Dorn was temporarily reassigned to the patrol unit.

"What we will be doing to cover the vacancy is to move the crime prevention officer back to patrol full time. That will require us to change crime prevention because (Dorn) is on patrol and we are trying to shift some of those duties around,'' said Stevens.

"But it will diminish the level of service because rather than have a full-time officer dedicated to crime prevention it will be spread among the various officers with other duties,'' she said.

If the two positions are not filled and in the interim even if one position is approved, the department will still keep Dorn on patrol for roughly six months because that's the amount of time needed to hire and field train an officer to the point where the officer can patrol on his or her own, Stevens explained.

"There will be some changes in the crime prevention level even in the short-term period and if that position is not replaced, it will be long-term changes,'' said Stevens.

She said the need for the two hires is based on the service level provided to citizens.

"It's to maintain our service levels at the current rate and part of that service level is our crime prevention program as well, but it's also our overall service level to the citizens,'' said Stevens.

The committee vote was 2-1 with Doug Reese and Denis Anderson in favor and Tim Johnson against. Committee Chairman Steve Ahmann did not vote. Johnson requested the matter be tabled to look at more data on number of officers per capita, crime trends and other indicators.

Later, Johnson told the Tribune the matter will move forward to the full council for consideration, which he said it should.

"It's a public safety issue. My only concern is just because we've always had so many officers and we're down I'd like to have a little bit more information,'' said Johnson, adding that he does not want to micromanage the police department.

"I think Chief Wyffels does a great job. I've always felt that the Willmar Police Department is highly professional and well trained and we've had a series of chiefs that have provided excellent leadership, a lot of continuity. Every time we get a new chief it seems like they find things to improve on,'' Johnson said.

"But my issue is I want to look at more data. My guess is I'll probably support it at the council meeting. By the time the meeting gets around I'll have seen some more information. I don't see where I'd be against replacing the two positions that he wants to fill now.''

In other business, the committee approved a process and timetable proposed by Stevens to request proposals from lawyers or law firms interested in replacing long-time City Attorney Rich Ronning who will retire March 31.

Proposals will be sent Feb. 1, returned by March 1 and reviewed by Stevens, Wyffels, Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday and Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson. Stevens said she and the review committee members probably deal with the city attorney the most on a daily basis.

The committee will narrow the field to a number of finalists for the council to interview, with an appointment made April 2.

Also, the committee approved a request from Stevens to seek proposals from private companies to assist the current two custodians with cleaning the community center, the old wastewater treatment plant, new wastewater treatment plant, the Public Works garage, airport and fire department.

The service is being requested after the council Dec. 19 defeated a motion to hire a third custodian to clean city buildings.

Also, Stevens will seek requests from companies to clean carpets and floors from four times per year to once a year and requests for proposals to perform exterior window cleaning twice a year.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150