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updated: 10/25/2013 4:45 PM

Des Plaines OKs two new cops - but one's a dog

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One new Des Plaines police officer and a crime-fighting K9 partner are expected to hit the streets next year -- but that's far fewer than the number of additional positions requested by the police department in this year's budget discussions.

Police Chief Bill Kushner asked the city council at the start of budget talks this month for 10 new officers -- to restore the number of positions that were cut between 2005 and 2010 during a budget squeeze.

Kushner revised that request to five new officers, but on Thursday, the city council only approved one -- plus the police dog -- during the third and final night of budget discussions.

City Finance Director Dorothy Wisniewski said hiring more than one new officer would likely require a property tax levy increase.

The new officer will cost the city $113,945 in salary and benefits, and the K9 will cost $59,000, which will be funded through police asset forfeiture funds -- drug money and property recovered during investigations.

"Five is a lot of guys," said Mayor Matt Bogusz. "I was (an alderman) in 2009 when we reduced a great many positions. (We're) balancing the need to obviously continue to protect our public and the desire of this council to not increase the property tax levy.

"Knowing how difficult it was in 2009, I'd caution to take small steps to increase any positions. But if we're going to do it, let's do it slowly, even if it's one."

The police department has 91 active sworn officers, plus four recruits undergoing academy training, and 25 non-sworn employees such as clerical staff. The police department used to have a K9, but has not in some time.

The number of sworn officers reached its zenith in 1992, with 105.

Kushner said the current staffing levels have made it difficult to combat a growing gang and drug problem.

"Crime has remained relatively steady -- we've seen some spikes -- but we are seeing an increase in gang activity," Kushner told aldermen Thursday.

"We're seeing gangs starting to grow from just a disorganized group of young men to something more substantial with ties back to major street gangs in the city of Chicago."

Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Walsten was the lone alderman in favor of adding two new police officers -- the K9 officer, plus another officer to focus on gang prevention.

"I think we should invest in a little more gang eradication because once it's there, it's harder to get out," Walsten said. "I think we should really nip it in the bud."

The new police officer position is one part of the city's proposed $142.8 million budget for 2014.

It's an increase over last year's $125.8 million budget, due to capital improvement projects that the city plans to pay for by using reserve funds.

No property tax levy increase is expected for next year, officials said.

Aldermen will give the budget final approval on Dec. 2.

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