Courier Staff Writer
Downtown Ottumwa will see a new police officer patrolling the streets in the near future.
The City Council approved the restructuring of the Ottumwa Police Department 4-1 Tuesday night, with Councilman Jeremy Weller as the dissenting vote.
The restructuring will consist of the elimination of the part-time downtown parking attendant and the retirement of a lieutenant to support the creation of a downtown police officer.
The new position would be able to do the job that three people — the parking attendant, the animal control officer and a patrol officer — are currently doing in patrolling the downtown area.
Robert LaPoint questioned what the officer would accomplish in terms of enforcement.
“I’ve been watching what goes on when school kids are waiting to get on buses,” LaPoint said. “I think we would be better served that the officers downtown supervising gets out of their cars and patrols up and down the sidewalk, instead of standing by their patrol car, visiting amongst themselves.”
Shannon Addison also voiced her concerns.
“Now that I’m on the Ottumwa Transit Advisory Board, I’ve begun taking notice of the loitering and littering that takes place at the bus stop at Main and Market,” Addison said. “I’m concerned as to whether this officer will issue citations so we get this area of Ottumwa cleaned up.”
Addison suggested that if citations are not issued, the city should look at a grant-funded community service officer to help pick up downtown.
Police Chief Jim Clark said the department will likely receive 59,000 to 60,000 service calls this year.
Clark said in fact, the difference between the parking attendant and the revenue she generated compared to the salary and benefits of a new officer is around $15,000.
“We’re actually saving money because we’re doing away with the parking attendant and the lieutenant,” Clark said. “We’ll save at least $20,000 to $25,000. The person will pay for itself, based on what we’ve already budgeted for.”
Since the lieutenant’s position will not be filled once the current lieutenant retires in December 2013, that will also help in terms of the department’s budget.
“You guys are spread pretty thin,” said Councilman Brian Morgan. “My suggestion is to make this an officer position with an emphasis on downtown, but make it to where the peak hours — like Friday, Saturday nights — we get them out on the streets assisting the public instead of writing a smoking ticket downtown, a parking ticket.”
Morgan said he didn’t like how the position was presented to the council as an officer specifically assigned to the downtown area.
“I’m not against a new officer or restructuring of the department, but I’m not comfortable necessarily voting for it as a downtown officer,” Morgan said. “If it’s an officer with an emphasis on downtown, I’d feel more comfortable looking at it that way.”
Clark said they are not obligated to call it a “downtown officer.” He said however the council determines the position should be used, that’s how the officer will be instructed.
“We did have a downtown officer,” Clark said. “What we did was we pulled an investigator out of investigations to do that position. But due to a number of serious crimes we had this past year — murders, robberies and numerous sexual abuses — it’s important to put that officer back in investigations and investigate those crimes rather than have him downtown.”
Councilman Bob Meyers mentioned that one reason downtown has problems attracting businesses is due to the crime and mischief that occurs downtown.
“Surely, I think the presence of an officer would alleviate some of those problems,” he said.
Weller wondered if the two remaining lieutenants would be able to do their jobs efficiently and effectively enough to deal with the 60,000 calls per year and only around 30 officers on the streets.
“Right now the third lieutenant is on day shift,” Clark said. “So we’re trying that technique right now to see if they are able to do that. At some point down the road, whether it’s myself or another person who takes my place, that person will have to come to the city administrator and say yes, it’s working or no, it’s not.”