By NICK GOSNELL
HUTCHINSON, Kan. — The Hutchinson City Council appeared to coalesce around the idea of a park patrol as a solution to vandalism and other issues surrounding parks throughout the city on Tuesday.
"We're so spread out," said Police Chief Jeff Hooper. "We have 24 square miles in the city, so it's a spread out city anyway and then you throw something like Orchard Park out there and so its hard to get the extra patrol there. Carey Park, we're in there a lot. Any time we take somebody to the jail, the officers drive that route and drive through there. There's a lot more police presence there."
One concern of the council was being sure that city resources are not disproportionately used for one area of the city over another. That's part of the reason Director of Parks and Facilities Justin Combs presented the idea.
"They are part-time employees," Combs said. "We're not into it for a ton of money at that point. There are some salaries there, but again, there are no benefits or anything like that, so that might be an easy first step. If that doesn't work, then maybe we look at something a little bit more harsh."
Chief Hooper is on board with the idea.
"We already have a system in place," Hooper said. "We already have a unit. We have the PSA program already. We have a vehicle for them already. We would just have to add a couple extra personnel. Most of the people that are involved in that program are college students at HCC or Sterling that are in there. Basically, it's a training and mentoring program. We've hired three of them out of that program for officers. We would have to hire specific PSAs for this task that worked part time but worked every night."
Hooper believes it would cost around $25,000 a year to get this done if it were done year-round. He has that money in his budget for the next couple of years and he said, if the council approved the idea, it could get started within a month or a little more depending on how quickly they could hire the part-time help.