(LOOGOOTEE) - Making a traffic stop, particularly at night, is potentially one of the most dangerous duties police officers perform. If those officers don't have proper information, it could become even more dangerous.
Tim Pinkham of the Washington Times-Herald reports that law enforcement officers in Martin County and Loogootee have faced a deteriorating communications problem in the past few months, City Councilman Rick Norris said Monday night during a special council meeting to review the proposed 2013 city budget.
Norris is also a Loogootee police officer.
About a year ago, at the urging of former mayor Don Bowling, the council agreed to split dispatching duties with the Martin County Sheriff's Department. The city and county dispatchers work 12 hours each day. The city also agreed to pay the county $10,000.
Bowling had pushed the measure as a means to save the city more than $50,000 annually in salaries for city dispatchers.
For the first year, city dispatchers handled calls from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to midnight on weekends. However, beginning Tuesday, Mayor Noel Harty said the city began handling calls from noon to midnight every day.
Norris said Monday night that he had opposed the plan to split dispatching duties, but acknowledged that it had worked better than he expected during the initial six-month trial period. However, in recent months he said there have been serious problems with radio communications and phone service.
Besides police matters, the dispatchers also answer 911 emergency calls. Norris said occasionally there is no phone service with the county dispatchers for hours for 911 calls.
Norris and Harty agreed most of the problems occur during the overnight hours when county dispatchers are on duty.
The Indiana Data and Communications System is based in the sheriff's department. When a police officer makes a traffic stop, IDACS provides immediate information about the vehicle's owner based on the license plate, including any possible criminal record.
Norris said dispatchers must be certified to access the IDACS information. He said all the city dispatchers are certified, but not all the ones hired by the county. He specifically said one county dispatcher has a criminalrecord, which means he can never be certified.
Councilman Rich Taylor echoed the concerns expressed by Norris, saying, "I'm at the point I think we are putting the citizens of Loogootee and Martin County at risk."
Harty said he had discussed the matter with Police Chief Kelly Rayhill and Fire Chief Morgan Huebner. He said they have come up with a plan to resolve these problems, which he thinks the council members will support.
The mayor suggested the council discuss these plans during an executive session prior to the Aug. 13 Board of Public Works and Safety meeting, which immediately precedes the council meeting. Sheriff Rob Street will be invited to the executive session as well.
In other business, the council approved a proposed 2013 city budget totaling $1,295,622. This is an increase from this year's budget of $1,223,846.
The council will take a final vote on the proposed budget Aug. 13, after it has been advertised in the local newspaper and the public is given the opportunity to comment. The budget includes pay raises for city employees.
Whatever budget the council passes, it must then be approved by the Department of Local Government Finance. Many times the state agency requires governmental entities to cut their budgets.
However, Clerk-Treasurer Nancy Jones said this year's budget was not cut by the state. She will meet with a representative from the DLGF a week from Friday for an initial discussion on the city's proposed budget.
Four categories of the budget were increased: General Fund from $899,211 to $955,137; Motor Vehicle Highway from $125,160 to $135,980; Parks and Recreation from $62,225 to $63,755; and Cumulative Fire from $15,000 to $18,500.
The other categories remained the same: Local Road and Street, $12,000; Rainy Day, $10,000; Economic Development Income Tax, $43,250; Cumulative Capital Improvement, $10,000; Cumulative Capital Development, $28,000; Police Equipment and Training, $1,500; Police Pension, $16,000; and Local Police Continuing Education, $1,500.
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