Decision on police lobby hours put on hold

Committee tables proposal to pare evening staffing until obtaining more information on visits in 2019
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press Staff

Plans to reconsider the Grafton police station’s open lobby hours have been put on hold after village officials said they want to collect more data about the reasons visitors seek assistance.

Much of the debate that took place during the Public Safety Committee meeting Thursday, June 21, focusing on limiting the evening hours of operation for the around-the-clock lobby.

“The numbers don’t reflect the critical nature of the visits,” Village President Jim Brunnquell said. “I don’t see enough data for me to make any change.”

In the past, the lobby has been managed by police dispatchers, but after the village transferred dispatching services to Ozaukee County’s Sheriff’s Department in April, the current staffing model for the police department is no longer relevant.

According to police department records, 11,248 people stopped at the station since last June. The majority of the visits occurred during first and second shifts, while third shift saw an average of 1.2 people per night.

“Can the board justify spending over $100,000 per year for an administrative night-shift position with so little traffic?” Lisa Uribe Harbeck, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said in a letter to Ozaukee Press.

“We need to determine whether there is an actual public safety benefit versus customer service in staffing the lobby 24/7.” 

According to a report by Village Administrator Jesse Thyes, there is no data outlining the reasons for the lobby visits, but he said people stop there for emergency requests, traffic directions, citation payments and general inquiries.

Thyes said the primary reason to maintain a 24/7 lobby is because it’s considered a safe haven.

Although the reasons for visits are not quantified, Grafton Police Chief Charles Wenten said the third-shift visits can be critical.

“I acknowledge we don’t have a flood of traffic during third shift. The ones that come in at night are the ones that are usually most significant,” he said. “People know where we are.”

Wenten said the location of the police station is unique to Grafton because it is near I-43, and in the past visitors have entered the lobby at night to report road-rage incidents. He added that there are a number of domestic violence reports that occur at night.

For 2018, the village budgeted $463,290 for 6.5 full-time employees to work the lobby around the clock.

In his report, Thyes outlined several cost models for maintaining the lobby with options for various hours of operation and numbers of employees.

“Staffing is what drives the cost of service,” Thyes said. “But we don’t know the future wage rates.”

Earlier this month, the Village Board tabled a recommendation to keep the six police dispatchers who handle the lobby by creating clerical support staff positions, but the board tabled a decision to determine their salaries and referred the issue to the Finance Committee. 

Ultimately, the Public Safety Committee decided to revisit the lobby hours next year in order to collect more data about the visits. Officials said the village would make its decision at the end of 2019 to determine the cost for the 2020 budget.

“We’re making an emotional decision,” Brunnquell said. “We need the information to act rationally.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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