Hillcrest Annexation Request Reveals Dubuque Police Shortage

by Katie Wiedemann, Reporter

DUBUQUE, Iowa - A proposal for the city of Dubuque to annex a mental health facility is revealing an officer shortage at the Dubuque police department.

With only 95 officers on the force right now, police officials say the department needs another 14 officers. This comes just at the city could soon become responsible for protecting more people.

Hillcrest Family Services operates a mental health residential care center on Speipple Road.That center was formerly called the Julien Care Facility. Directors there want to install a fire sprinkler system.

But in order to do that they need to connect to the city's water source.
The property is under the County Sheriff's jurisdiction. Dubuque County Sheriff Don Vrotsos says deputies respond to more than 250 calls there each year. A number the city police don't know how they'll keep up with.

Many of the 80 people living at the Hillcrest center are dealing with crisis and mental illness.

The Sheriff says 35 percent of the Office's annual calls for service come from Hillcrest employees.

Hillcrest's John Bellini said, "with the particular mental health needs and the emotional behavior issues that we are dealing with, I believe it's not a high number. "

State law keeps Hillcrest's type of shelter from locking residents inside. So most of the calls for service are to help search for runaways.

Taking over that volume of calls is alarming for Dubuque Police Lt. Scott Baxter. He says the department is already extremely short staffed.

Baxter said, "we had some unexpected resignations over the summer. Coupled with retirements and maternity leave. "

Baxter says the police department is actively hiring, but only a small number of potential officers are able to get into the state's police academy each year.

"every agency across the state is competing for those slots. The larger agencies who don't have their own academies, we are at their mercy as well. "

If the Hillcrest center becomes part of the city, Baxter says police will likely have to cut back on things like special traffic enforcement projects and crime prevention.

Baxter said, "we're not willing to sacrifice that promise to the community, the fact that we are going to be there when they need us. We are going to do that at all costs. It's just far more challenging when we don't have the people we need. "

A state board has already approved the annexation that would make this center part of the city. City leaders say unless someone objects by this Monday, the annexation will go through.
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