ST. CLAIRSVILLE - City Police Officer T.J. Stewart and Dispatcher Judy McMillan addressed city council Monday and brought forward several issues that they say are impacting the police department and its officers' ability to carry out their duties.
Stewart, an officer of 15 years, related the extensive responsibilities of the police department.
"Our officers and dispatchers work very hard to deal with problems and issues on a daily basis and continually work to prevent terrible things before they can happen. We are sympathetic to the fact that the city's had to deal with difficult financial issues over the past few years and have willingly worked with the city to resolve them," he said.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE Police Officer T.J. Stewart calls for greater involvement and support of council for the police department.
ROBERT A. DEFRANK
Stewart referred to a report by the state auditor noting that the police department used $300,000 less in 2012 than in 2009.
"To do that, we have been doing much more with much less. We have been willing to do that and will continue to do so as long as necessary," he said, noting the long hours of the officers and adding that some full-time employees have been told funds were insufficient for benefits. He pointed out the complications of working on an extensive investigation while undertaking normal duties.
In addition, Stewart said the officers are unsure about the security of their jobs. He mentioned rumors that at year's end, police, landscaping or recreation department may be facing layoffs.
"I'd like council to please clarify what conversations have been taking place about this issue," he said. "We have done much research in educating ourselves on the financial standing of the city, and don't feel that these types of statements are appropriate at all."
He noted delays in conducting operation due to policy changes. In one instance, the department's old fax machine has ceased to function several weeks ago.
"In the past it would have been about an hour's problem because we would have simply bought one to replace it. It has now turned into a lengthy process," he said, adding that faxes and other disruptions of the communication process can lead to life-or-death situations as well as delaying communications to the electric department dealing with a planned digging project.
"When we need things, we need them now. We don't need them a week later," he
Another issue is months-long process to obtain radar units for the cruisers.
He complimented the police chief and mayor for their support, but criticized council members for a perceived lack of interest and involvement in the needs of the department and the process by which residents are protected.
"We are employees, but we are residents. You do have to answer our questions." he said.
McMillan added that the dispatchers have a duty to the officers' and citizens' best interest during a dangerous call.
"I just think it's very important that these guys and the dispatchers get the respect we deserve," she said.
Afterwards, Stewart said he hoped council members would take a further interest in the department and ongoing operations. He added that the chief is often limited in what can be related during the police report in the interest of not compromising ongoing investigations.
"We are working ourselves to the bone 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Stewart said. "We need for them to understand we're not just sitting around waiting for a speeder to go by. We do everything."
He added that the department carries out its investigations without detectives, investigators and accident report reconstructionists.
Stewart added that he delivered the statements with respect for the council and their dedication to the city.
Mayor Robert Vincenzo said the mayor's office is open for any issues or concerns that confront the officers.
Council Member Terry Pugh, member of the police committee, said he has made an effort to be available for the department's concerns and will continue to be available whenever their schedules permit a meeting.
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org