WATERLOO — The city’s top law enforcement officer supports pursuing traffic cameras but doesn’t believe his officers should be cross-trained as firefighters.
Police Chief Dan Trelka fielded those questions Saturday while presenting his budget during a City Council work session at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.
Trelka said he initially didn’t like the cameras some Iowa cities used to issue tickets for speeding and red-light violations when he came to Waterloo from Wisconsin in 2010. But he’s now involved in discussions to have them locally if the Iowa Legislature allows them.
“I am a fan,” Trelka said. “Cedar Rapids showed me the benefit they had down there in saving lives and lowering traffic crashes, and I instantly became an advocate for them.”
Councilman Bruce Jacobs piggybacked on a question he asked Fire Chief Pat Treloar last week about having police officers assist on fire emergency calls.
“Could we seriously look into cross-training some police officers to assist the fire department, such as Cedar Falls has done?” Jacobs asked.
But Trelka said he did not believe it would work given the type of calls Waterloo officers handle and the other “perishable skills” they need to maintain without diluting them with fire training.
“That is something we have looked at, we have studied, and what we have found is mostly because of socio-economic factors the type of policing we engage in in Waterloo is so different than the type of policing they engage in in Cedar Falls … We don’t think it would work,” Trelka said.
“Let’s face it, the policing needs and the type of policing in Cedar Falls are vastly different than policing needs and the type of policing in Waterloo,” he added. “It’s not because the cities are so different, it’s because of the socio-economics” of a larger, blue-collar industrial town compared to a smaller college community.
The Waterloo Police Department, with a $13.2 million property tax asking, is the largest department in the city. Trelka is seeking a 1.8 percent increase next year, primarily to cover contractual wage increases.
“Bascially it’s a cookie cutter budget from previous years,” he said.
Trelka said his department is effective, as the crime rate has fallen 26 percent since 2009, and is a bargain compared to other large Iowa cities. Waterloo police costs are $195 per capita compared to Sioux City at $257, Cedar Rapids at $279 and Des Moines at $288, he said.
The council’s budget meetings so far have been relatively free of policy debates, although some cost-savings ideas brought up in past years are resurfacing.
Councilman Steve Schmitt, for example, asked whether the city could consider selling off some of its 52 parks. That would cut maintenance costs and provide room for some development.
“There are many parks in this community that are used very seldom,” Schmitt said. “The immediate neighbors would not be happy, but five years from now they’d never remember there was a park there.”
Councilman Pat Morrissey wanted the city to add funding for the Historic Preservation Commission, which has been looking for money for a study to help create historic districts in several neighborhoods.
Mayor Quentin Hart said the commission needs to put together a strategic plan on how it would use city support first. “We need to see what they want to do with the money before we just say here’s $20,000,” he said.