Council weighs additional deputies, new committee
As budget talks start for the next fiscal year, public safety remains a focal point for Indian Trail’s town council. During their Tuesday, Jan. 24 meeting, council members opened discussions about adding three deputies, as well as recreating the public safety committee.
“It was very positive feedback when we were campaigning, to add officers (and) to get the public safety committee back together,” council member David Waddell said. “What I wanted to do is get us thinking about the next year. I’d like us to consider adding law enforcement to the budget.”
Currently the town contracts for 18 total officers, including 16 deputies, a sergeant and Lt. Chase Coble, who is in charge of Indian Trail’s detachment. Indian Trail hasn’t added any officers for the last two years. In the past, the point of contention for council members was the fact the town doesn’t know how much the county will charge this year for deputies. Over the last five years, the cost to contract sheriff’s deputies has risen annually, a number set by county commissioners, not the sheriff’s office.
Before approving new deputies, council member Robert Allen said the town needs to get the financial information from the county, to make sure they can afford the extra officers.
“We also need to open up our purse and see what’s in it,” Allen said. “I’d love to have a 65 inch plasma tv, but maybe I don’t have the money.”
During the May 2011 budget discussions, Coble had recommended council members add three more officers to the unit, a detective and two deputies to handle traffic control.
Coble again made that recommendation Tuesday night, pointing out that events beyond Indian Trail would have an impact on the town’s safety.
“The (Democratic National Convention) is coming and it’s gonna be your neighbor,” Coble told council members, pointing out that any rental properties would likely be leased by convention goers, due to the town’s close proximity to Charlotte. “We’re all being affected by that (and) we expect some of that overflow here. We’ve got to be prepared for that.”
Even without the DNC, Indian Trail needs more officers, Coble said, presenting statistics that showed both incident calls and the amount of time spent at each scene have increased over the last three years. In 2011, Indian Trail deputies responded to 9,913 calls, up from 8,523 in 2009. At the same time, deputies also spend more time at each incident. In 2009, deputies spent an average of 29 minutes, 55 seconds at each Indian Trail crime scene. In 2011, that climbed to 45 minutes. Despite the increased caseload and longer time spent at each scene, deputies actually cut down on their response time last year, the numbers show. In 2009, deputies took an average of 11 minutes, 8 seconds to respond to a call. In 2011, that time fell to 9 minutes, 35 seconds.
“I’m proud our guys were able to push out a little better time with the same staffing,” Coble told council members.
In the town survey released March 2011, 74 percent of residents said they were satisfied with the current quality of local law enforcement. Residents said they felt the only changes needed was more visibility for law enforcement in the town’s neighborhoods, along with a strict enforcement of speed limits. The seven page survey was mailed to 1,800 households in the town, large enough to qualify as a random sample. Out of those, 406 households completed the study.
By contrast, the town’s public safety committee, before being disbanded in 2010, recommended to the town council that due to the rise in population, Indian Trail needs a minimum of 28 officers. Over the last 10 years, the town’s population has climbed to more than 33,000.
“I’d like to get the resources that our folks need in place,” Waddell said.
Council members agreed to continue discussing the addition during their planning workshop, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 28 at 8:30 a.m at the town’s civic building.
Bringing back public safety committee
Council members also moved forward with plans to recreate the public safety committee. Dissolved by a previous town council in 2010, the committee became a topic of discussion during last year’s campaign, along with the number of contract deputies in town. Coble told council members Tuesday that the committee helped him in multiple ways.
“It gave us an avenue to meet with people and bounce ideas off of,” Coble said. “You had retired detectives from New York and people like that on there.”
The problem for council member Robert Allen is the lack of a defined purpose for the committee. If the council wants to bring the committee back, Allen said, it needs to give them specific guidelines.
“I think it’s important to give them a scope (of work),” Allen said. “We (need to) define their mission, provide goals and drop dead dates. There has got to be direction from the council, otherwise we’re not gonna get anything out of it.”
As part of that direction, Allen said that the committee members need to understand the town has no control over fire departments or EMS. That way, Allen said, the committee wouldn’t be spending hours studying things that the council couldn’t do anything with.
Mayor Pro Tem David Cohn said it fell on council members to provide that direction, pointing out that in talks with Coble, he learned there were other ways a safety committee could help the town.
“(We) can’t necessarily use a sheriff at a school crossing because we don’t have the ability to oversee the schools’ traffic area at 7 a.m.,” Cohn said, pointing out that with 18 contract deputies, there wouldn’t be enough manpower on hand to manage school traffic and also respond to any calls in the town. Maybe public safety committee members could direct traffic, Cohn said, through training from the sheriff’s department.
Council members agreed to let town manager Joe Fivas and Coble examine the current by-laws for a safety committee and make any changes, if needed, before bringing it back to council for a vote.