Your view: Funding is needed
In 1976 City Ordinance formed the Sikeston Department of Public Safety and the Department began to hire officers to fill both duties as fire fighters and police officers. The big push came in 1978 when then Director Ken Francis started an aggressive hiring process and offered a great compensation package ($8,500) per year. Ten officers were hired that year and four of us are still employed.
Over the next 25 years and six additional directors, the department has grown and many officers have come and gone. The one constant thing that has remained and will always remain is the dedication and commitment to duty of all who have served this great department and city.
I have watched and learned many things over the past 25 years and have been blessed to be given the chance to now lead this great agency. With the up coming vote I felt it important to share some of the thoughts I have as well as other members of the department. During this period I have noticed that all things are cyclic and have their peaks and valleys. This has included staffing at Public Safety and our budget.
Several months ago, I made a plea to our City Council to consider minimum staffing levels for Public Safety and to set aside funding to maintain this level as well as annual cost of living adjustments. In the past we have adjusted our staffing levels by what we could afford with the budget and input from the public. This all occurred prior to any consideration for a sales tax. At that time the council asked me to submit a proposal to the city manager for consideration.
My Command Staff and myself worked diligently to develop what we felt were appropriate staffing levels for DPS that would be acceptable for the next three to five years. These staffing levels were based on service needs for the community and were only minimum levels. The current Command Staff has over 100 years of experience and that is public safety experience, that is Sikeston experience.
Let me digress a moment. We are unique by having a Department of Public Safety. It provides all of us with many benefits some of which are: all employees are crossed trained as fire fighters as well as police officers, this allows us to put a large number of officers on a single emergency scene. This also saves us approximately $1 million per year by not having to have two fully staffed agencies. This is why we cannot be compared to other agencies in the area because we are unique and our officers are better trained than any other agency in our area. This is why they are sought after by other agencies and why we need to compensate them fairly for the jobs they do. In the wake of Sept. 11, many agencies are now looking into cross training and the Public Safety concept.
The staffing proposal was submitted to the city manager in June and has been approved as a plan for our department. We have shared it with all who will listen and stand by it for the future of Sikeston and Public Safety. We must prepare for the crimes of the 21st century. These are high tech crimes that will occur via computers such as identity theft, credit card theft and other white-collar crimes. The officers that will investigate these crimes will not come cheap and the criminals will be global.
Now with all that said let's move forward to the real point of this letter. We must continue to grow as a community and be willing to provide for those who protect and serve us each day. We have the greatest police and fire agency between St. Louis and Memphis. In the past three years we have cut Part One crimes (homicide, manslaughter, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson) by 30 plus percent and have lowered the ISO (fire insurance) rating by two points and have one of the highest crime clearance rates of any police agency in the country.
What does the future hold for us? We have two directions in which to proceed. One I do not even wish to discuss and the other is very promising. We have removed some of the major crime families and criminals from our community. This has been done with the help of you citizens becoming involved and many other law enforcement agencies. We must now continue our proactive approach and keep any one from filling the void left by these individuals. We must prepare ourselves for the future and keep our community headed in the right direction. This will not be accomplished without funding and a proactive team effort by each of us.
Several months ago, I read an article that was published in the St. Louis Post -Dispatch (Nov. 30, 2003) titled, "The law and Disorder." It discussed police service in the St. Louis County area and surveyed over 100 departments. The bottom line was "You get what you pay for." Competitive salaries and budgets equal low crime rates; low salaries and budgets equal high crime rates. As I stated to the Chamber several months ago you the public have to decide what you want us to be. It is up to you. We have the ability and the desire, we now need the funding and continued community support.
In closing, there have been many views discussed and published concerning the sales tax issue. I can tell you that in order for us to make the community a safer and better place to live, we must have additional funding. Our budget and staffing has been cut for the past two budget years and we cannot continue to do more with less. Let us not forget what has been accomplished over the past several years. We must keep our momentum. The in-fighting and power struggles must cease. This is our community. We all enjoy living here and we need to make it the best place to live and work in the country.
P.S. The reason we all came in 1978 was the money. Cape only paid $6,500 a year.