Stimulus bolsters WVC police force

Public safety » Nine new cops will hit the streets this summer.
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When the city incorporated in 1980, its police department started with 46 officers overseeing about 72,000 residents.

Today, the city's population is more than 117,500 -- a 62 percent increase. In 2009, the number of officers jumped to 189 -- a 311 percent increase, according to city data.

But the department's biggest expansion took place more than a decade ago, said Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen. The recent hiring of nine new officers is the most the department has added at one time since 1990.

The entry-level cops will start patrolling city streets this summer, thanks to $1.7 million in federal stimulus money arriving during the next three years.

Residents' top concern is public safety, so the new officers are a great bonus for the department, officials said. "We're glad to have more resources," said City Manager Wayne Pyle.

Mayor Mike Winder said he hopes the department, especially with the new boost in officers, can continue its three-year crime-rate decrease. "We're keeping the bad boys on the run and this is helping us stay on their heels," he said.

The nine officers are in various stages of their six-to-nine-month hiring and training process, Nielsen said.

The federal funding pays for their salaries and benefits, but the city had to come up with roughly $380,000 for start-up costs, such as equipment and police cars, Nielsen said.

Nielsen, who became chief in 2002, has been an officer with the department since the beginning. July will mark the department's 30th anniversary.

Nielsen said he is excited to have the department up to full staff, which hasn't been the case in several years.

In the past decade, the number of officers has increased by 16 percent. The population has increased by 8 percent to 14 percent, depending on city estimates.

For most of those years, Nielsen said he's struggled to maintain 175 officers on staff, despite the city's financial issues.

"Demands and cases come along that you can't control," he said. "The leaner [the department is], the more stressful it becomes."

In 2002, officials said, an economic downturn began and the city eliminated positions and put a hiring freeze on officers. In 2006 and 2007, the department was able to hire back to full staff, and about 20 cops were hired each year, officials said.

This year, Nielsen said he hopes the department will be able to stay at 195 officers, which includes the new hires.

There are 1.5 cops per 1,000 residents in West Valley City. Nielsen said he would like to see the number increase to 2 officers per 1,000 residents, but he knows it won't happen anytime soon.

"We just got to do what we can until the economy turns around," he said.

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