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Paying the price of heightened alert

Ben Godar

While city officials say it’s too soon to measure the financial cost

of the recent national move to a heightened state of alert for

terrorism, increased staffing and other precautions could become a

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financial burden.

Shortly before the start of the war in Iraq, the Department of

Homeland Security raised the national threat level to orange, which

signifies a high risk of a terrorist attack.

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Burbank Police raised their deployments at about the same time,

and that move could eventually affect the city’s budget in terms of

overtime costs, Financial Services Director Derek Hanway said.

However, he said it would be about a month until officials see how

much those costs have increased.

“It is possible we’re going to have to go back and look at more

appropriations, but it’s still a bit too early to tell,” he said.

Police officials are attempting to keep costs down by restricting

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the number of days off that officers take, Sgt. Bruce Speirs said.

“Any time the department faces a man-made or natural disaster, the

first thing we do is restrict our personnel so they can’t take time

off,” he said.

By not allowing officers to take vacation time, police officials

have been able to fill their additional deployment without having to

bring in officers on their days off. On a few occasions, particularly

when several officers are required to be in court, Speirs said

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officers have been brought in on overtime, which costs the department

about $50 per hour.

Speirs said the number of officers on the streets varies by the

hour and declined to say how much deployments have increased. He did

say that the average minimum patrol deployment is between 15 and 20

officers, but could go as high as 30. That number doesn’t include

detectives, motorcycle officers and others assigned to various

details.

Even if the total amount of overtime is relatively small, Hanway

said if staffing remains elevated for a long period of time, it could

incur a significant cost. When deployments were raised immediately

after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and remained in place for about

five months, he said the city spent almost $500,000 extra on

overtime.

The fire department has not raised its deployments as a result of

the heightened terror alert, Assistant Chief Norm Stockton said. The

department’s biggest financial concern related to terrorism is being

able to get grant money to pay for added equipment and training, he

said.

It is not known how long police deployments will remain

heightened, but Speirs said the department assesses threats on an

individual basis, rather than relying solely on the National Terror

Alert.


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