Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Stringing Together some Community Thought on Public Safety and Crime Issues

Wow. There are some striking similarities between conditions on the ground in St. Louis and in Springfield, Missouri as evidenced in this Springfield News-Leader article, Alderman encourages residents to arm.

Read in light of an article published in the current issue (out today) of the Community Free Press, it gives one pause. In "City Cop Shortage is ‘Dog Gone Cold’," Brian Brown wrote that based on advice from Springfield's new City Manager, Greg Burris, and according to "Springfield Police Chief Lynn Rowe, the department is short 25 officers, and staffing levels aren’t going to be addressed before the city stabilizes the department’s pension situation." Brown goes on, "Burris said it doesn’t make sense to bring in new officers right now because new hires would be Tier II employees under the current system, and the city is trying to get switched over to the state’s LAGERS system."

Personally, I'm thinking that sort of depends upon one's priority. If public safety is the number one priority, it certainly DOES make sense to bring in new officers right now but, one could determine, considering the City failed to adequately address the underfunded pension problem for many years, that even though it's been identified as such, public safety hasn't really been the number one priorty issue in our City for many years.

According to Brown's article, "“The [hiring] freeze will occur at least until February 3,” Burris said. “If the tax passes, then we can start new academies. If the tax does not pass, we will have to reassess, and figure out what we’re going to do.""

Some months ago, I believe during budget discussions, some members (at least one) of the City Council were questioning what exactly ARE core City services? Council woman Rushefsky was seeking definition of that term. They've spent some time since then trying to get a vision of the direction the City should go. City Manager Greg Burris has questioned individual members regarding what they'd like the City to look like in 15 years. He brought along a 1999 Council resolution to one of those luncheon meetings to outline, I guess, the most current resolution of the Council regarding priorities. Council Bill 1999-438 was filed on December 7, 1999. It can also be referenced by Resolution number 8721.

"REAFFIRMING City Council's six priorities of Public Safety, Transportation/Traffic, Quality of Life and Economic Development, Communication with Citizens, Center City Revitalization, and Long-Range Planning/Vision 20/20 for next year, as discussed at the City Council's annual workshop on November 20, 1999."

Public Safety was at the head of the list. Tom Finnie was City Manager at the time. Proposed Action Step Priorities, under the explanation to the bill, for the Public Safety category included, but weren't limited to, interestingly, an "Implementation of Law Enforcement Sales Tax for; Additional Officers (City committed to 60 new officers and 12 non-sworn staff. By July, 2000, 45 officers and 9 non-sworn personnel will be hired. All 60 officers and 12 staff personnel scheduled to be hired by July, 2001.); Space Needs; Mobile Data Terminals and; Records Management System." Another category of interest was: "Determine Action on Photo Red Light Enforcement."

Again, personally, I would have preferred to have seen more "long range planning" dedicated to public safety than to Vision 20/20 projects. But, that's just me.

This morning, Vince Jericho said, "Times of great stress and strain also provide times for great opportunity," before he brought up a struggle being faced due to crime on the west side of downtown Springfield. Jack Pugh, a renovation contractor, has redeveloped houses on the west side of town in an effort to revitalize the area. He said:

"I tell you, good things do not happen to people who come here, on the Vince Jericho Show, especially when they speak against the status quo and the good old boys and girls that like to run this town.

"Since I was here last, I've had one building put on the dangerous building list because I absolutely refused to, along with David, to put any more money in this house on South Main because crime is so bad out of control there and, we even have a building standing open down the block where all the vagrants are living in at night. We just can't put more money in this and have it torn out. It's boarded up, which is not in compliance with the City's ordinance simply because 3 of the windows have been broken out since we started working on it. So, we shut it down, we boarded it up hoping the City can get crime under control on that street again."

It gets even more interesting, if you can call it that, maybe "alarming" would be a better word. Listen to the podcast. They touch on the article I referenced from the News-Leader, too.

I'd like to see our City Council continue to make an effort to define what core city services are for our City. It's a basic thing. Sometimes I think the citizens of this City understand core services better than the Council or City officials. In my opinion, they seem to want to expand core City services into something not "core" at all.

A Council in 1999 listed public safety first when listing their 6 priorities. Whatever long range vision they have practiced apparently didn't extend to how to protect the public and provide for law enforcement. Hinging public safety issues to whether the tax payers are willing to pass a sales tax to fund the police and firefighter pension system doesn't strike me as the most well thought out plan.

In the meantime, I think, just as a citizen of Springfield, watching our City Manager lead our City Council through feel good discussions of what you'd like to see our City look like in 15 years or what kind of a catch phrase we could identify our City by seems a bit high schoolish in light of the serious issues facing us, and don't get me wrong, I understand the City cannot have tunnel vision and ignore every aspect of our City and its growth other than public safety. I understand they have to have peripheral vision but, I'd like to see them stop giving public safety lip service as the highest priority and actually make it the highest priority.


tom said...

It's all about the parks, because without them large industry just will NOT relocate here to allow us jobs to provide for our family. How about we take and shelve the last tax increase for the parks department and have those funds going towards training and hiring more officers to work in areas of higher crime

Fred said...

Excellent comments. Public safety should be the first priority whether or not the 1% Pension Sales Tax passes. If staff reductions in other departments are necessary, so be it.

Anonymous said...

The no new training or
no new hires is just part of the "squeeze tactics" the City will use to try to pass the tax in February.

There will be more.

Anonymous said...

Before the Council opted to table the legislative priority issue regarding guns in the park, I believe parks would have been designated as a "core" service had that issue received Council approval.

Again, "core" seems to lack definition while the services on the periphery do not seem to be addressed at all by our new City Manager.

Anonymous said...

anon 8:03---
Parks a core service? Hah! Already Parks has the power to tax and police.
The reason no one connected with the city wants to re-direct the parks tax is they are afraid of losing their empires.

When I can't afford to pay my gas bill I eat bolonga, not steak.

When the city can't afford to pay the pension bill, why are we eating steak (flower gardens, park tax etc).