The Soldotna Police Department's chain of command is set to receive an upgrade, thanks to a hefty grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The $274,372 grant conferred by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) furnishes the salary and benefits of an entry-level officer for three years, with the additional stipulation that the police department keep the selected officer on staff for a fourth year after the grant money is exhausted.
As it stands, the Soldotna Police Department has a relatively flat management scheme with only three steps in the chain of command: officer, sergeant, and chief. What's missing is the lieutenant link, meaning that there is no one to monitor and supervise the sergeants except the chief.
"I'm responsible for overseeing the sergeants as well as a host of other people," said Soldotna Chief of Police John Lucking, "and they can't necessarily police each other being absolute peers. So having an operational supervisor allows some oversight, some mentoring, some liability reduction for them as well as for the whole department."
In addition to performing patrol work and supervising the sergeants, the lieutenant will be in charge of operational activities such as confirming that schedules are made and assignments are delegated.
Lucking said he will "make every effort to promote in-house," with the ideal situation involving the hiring of an officer, the promotion of an officer to sergeant, and the promotion of a sergeant to lieutenant.
"All the cities in our region do have a lieutenant in their hierarchy and their chain of command," council member Shea Hutchings said when the grant was officially accepted at Wednesday's Soldotna City Council meeting. "Every city our size utilizes that position."
When COPS performed a review to determine which police departments would receive grant money, Soldotna scored as one of the lowest in the nation in the category of financial need. But when it came to the best possible structure a department should have to serve its community, Soldotna shot back up into consideration due to its wanting three-tier chain of command.
Ultimately the grant and new lieutenant will allow Lucking to administratively function as the department's leader instead of having to spread himself too thin.
"I think our chief is in a unique position where he handles several different departments that fall under his command," said Councilmember Kyle Fisher. "And I think any time we can alleviate his responsibilities and give him another helping hand that we're only going to get better results in all of those departments."
Lucking said he hopes to have a new officer hired and someone acting in the lieutenant position within the next three months.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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