Langley Council members clash over need for fourth officer, advisory committee

Langley City Council voted down Councilmember Craig Cyr’s proposal in a 4-1 vote.

The majority of Langley City Council members put the kibosh on a plan to create another committee that would determine whether or not the city should hire a fourth police officer.

During a city council meeting July 6, tensions ran high as the council debated the need for such a committee, which was proposed by Councilmember Craig Cyr.

Cyr presented research gathered from public records requests that showed Langley police officers have responded to only 28 calls between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. over a three-year period. The data was collected from June 2017 to July 2020.

With 99 percent of calls happening outside of those early morning hours, Cyr explained that a police officer shouldn’t have to be scheduled for a night shift. He showed the council a schedule model that he created which didn’t have the city’s three existing officers working midnight to 8 a.m., except for on-call services.

In addition, Cyr said he was researching 22 other municipalities with population sizes similar to Langley’s — between 1,000 and 1,500 people — and had found that many of them rely on mutual aid agreements, whether with another city or with their respective counties.

“All 22 municipalities use a mix of on-duty, on-call and mutual aid agreements to provide for public safety needs, and I believe Langley should do that as well,” he said.

Cyr encouraged his fellow council members to consider the impacts to the budget adding a fourth police officer would cause. With a cost of $100,000 to $110,000 budgeted for an additional officer, he pointed out that the 10-year cost of the extra staff member would amount to $1 or $1.1 million.

“What does that $1.1 million buy? Does it buy $1.1 million of additional public safety?” he asked the council. “That’s really the question in my mind.”

According to data from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the Langley Police Department has not had four commissioned police officers since 2018. During that year, the city had one of the highest ratios, statewide, of commissioned officers per 1,000 people, at 3.40.

In 2020, with a city population of 1,195 and three officers, that ratio had fallen to 2.51, which was still more than three times the rate of commissioned officers in the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

Cyr proposed that the city should convene a new, temporary advisory group dedicated to exploring public safety needs for the city. The ad hoc committee, he said, would make a recommendation on whether a fourth officer should be hired and would present a report to the council by mid-November.

Cyr’s research and proposal was met with skepticism by his fellow council members. Councilmember Thomas Gill said the data about the other municipalities didn’t seem to be “remotely right.” He also pointed out that the city’s existing Civil Service Commission is already in charge of handling staffing matters related to the police department.

Councilmember Peter Morton said it seemed that Cyr had “cherry-picked” the data and called the 10-year budgeted cost of an additional officer that he had presented “a cheap shot.” With the amount of commissions the city already has, he said, he didn’t think studying the issue of public safety would be productive.

“We’re studied out,” Morton said.

Councilmember Dominique Emerson said she saw the steep price tag of a new officer as an investment. She raised concerns about Cyr’s scheduling model for the three current officers, saying that vacations and illnesses were not covered by it.

Councilmember Christy Korrow said the conversation was making her uncomfortable and added that she did not want to chip away at the city’s police department.

“I am not opposed to exploring creative alternatives to public safety,” she said. “I personally think that needs to happen at the county level.”

Langley Police Chief Don Lauer told the council that working 18 to 20 “overtime” hours every week has taken a toll on him and his family.

“I’ve been doing that to assist the city in order to be able to help control the budget,” said Lauer, who has a salaried position.

During a previous city council meeting, he led a presentation showing rotating schedules and the effect of fatigue on police officers. For over a year now, he has been advocating that the city should hire a fourth police officer to ease the burden of the police department’s current scheduling model.

Reserve officers, he pointed out, are not meant to replace full-time, commissioned police officers.

In the end, Cyr’s motion for his proposal failed in a 1-4 vote.

At the same meeting, the council adopted a budget amendment that funds a fourth officer.