MERRILLVILLE | Merrillville Police Chief Joseph Petruch estimates the town would need to generate an additional $1 million each year to hire 10 more officers.
Those funds would cover salaries, benefits, vehicles, fuel and other equipment for each officer, Petruch said.
They also would help the department take a more proactive approach toward addressing crime, he said.
Petruch supports a proposal for a property tax referendum to increase funding for the Police Department.
Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey said additional funding generated from a property tax increase would be used to hire more officers and provide raises for Merrillville police.
Town leaders have been gathering information for the referendum, but figures for a possible property tax increase haven't been developed.
Petruch said Merrillville is budgeted to have 54 officers, but the town currently has 48.
He said the force has stayed around 48 officers to help the town with its budget shortfall.
Petruch thinks Merrillville should have close to 71 officers, but he would at least like to have the force increase to 54.
Merrillville could start different programs, such as separate units focusing on traffic, drug and gang issues, if more officers are hired, Petruch said.
"That's something we need, and we can't afford to have it," he said.
Petruch also wants to bring back the department's canine unit and have officers become more involved with community-based programs.
"With the shortage in the Police Department, it's hard to do that," he said.
The staffing shortage also can put a strain on the department when officers investigate major crimes, such as the March 4 fatal armed robbery at Lucky Mart Foods.
Merrillville's entire detective bureau has contributed during the investigation, which has taken them away from investigating other cases, Petruch said.
If Merrillville could increase wages for police, it would help the department retain officers and attract quality applicants, he said.
Guernsey said he hopes to have the referendum on November's ballot.
He said it isn't guaranteed that Merrillville can increase property taxes for public safety even if voters decide to support the increase. Guernsey said the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance also would have to approve the matter.
Attorney Michael Deppe said he is providing free legal services to Merrillville as it pursues the referendum.
Guernsey said he and other town leaders have agreed to contribute their own money for other expenses associated with the process.
Town Councilwoman Carol Miano said she plans to have public meetings about the proposal.
"We have to cross this bridge together," Miano said.
Councilman Richard Hardaway said he hasn't been approached by town officials about the proposed referendum.
Hardaway said he agrees more officers are needed in Merrillville, but he thinks "we need to come together collectively as a council" to determine how to proceed with the issue.