An anticipated boost of manpower for the Omaha Police Department likely won't come until next year.
Training for a new class of more than two dozen officers won't begin until August, city officials said Friday.
Omaha officials approved additional money in this year's budget and received a federal grant to hire more officers in 2012.
Originally officials hoped to begin training this month in order to increase the authorized complement of officers to 799 by the end of the year. There currently are 771 officers.
The delay means the new officers likely won't be on the streets until May 2013.
One City Council member criticized the additional wait.
“The council made a May recruit class a top priority in the budget and funded that priority,” Pete Festersen said. “So I'm disappointed in the delay.
“We need to bring the number of officers on our streets up to at least 799 to start addressing our needs. We want to work to make sure this gets done,” he said.
Police officials and members of Mayor Jim Suttle's administration said the delay is largely designed to provide more time to gather a qualified pool of recruits and to save money.
“All things together, we want to make sure we do it right and get the right people in there,” said interim Police Chief David Baker. Baker has applied for the permanent chief's position.
Delaying planned recruit classes is a way public safety agencies free up money they otherwise would spend on salaries and benefits.
Baker said the Police Department is facing unexpected costs — estimated at roughly $200,000 — to upgrade and maintain computer software and to install cruiser cameras purchased earlier this year.
The city must hire the new officers this year to avoid jeopardizing a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department. It would fund wages and benefits for 10 new officers through August 2014. Among the grant's stipulations is a requirement that Omaha retain the grant-funded officers at city expense for one year after the grant expires.
Despite the need for an additional $200,000, Baker said the department is financially sound.
“Right now we're looking good, but these extra expenses were not necessarily foreseen or budgeted. ... We're predicting the future in terms of what we're trying to spend,” he said.
When training begins, recruits will undergo 24 weeks of classroom instruction followed by 15 weeks of field training in which they patrol with veteran officers. After that, Baker said, the officers will be ready for the large events and typical boost in crime during the spring and summer.
“By pushing this back a couple of months we wind up with officers fully fledged out on their own, ready to go by May of next year,” Baker said.
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