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Police communications unit could be cut

City officials recently abandoned an attempt to privatize residential garbage collections as a potential cost-saving measure, but now are considering phasing out the Communications Division of the Mount Airy Police Department.

This possibility has drawn the ire of a group called Citizens Demanding Answers. It is concerned about the impact on what it terms “the lifeline to a law enforcement agency” — personnel who answer calls from citizens and dispatch officers to crime scenes.

“The communication officers are the first line of defense between the chaos that is transpiring on the other end of the desperate phone call and responding officers,” says a letter from Citizens Demanding Answers. It does not contain the names of anyone associated with that group.

“By dismantling the division, this risks the very safety of the citizens they tirelessly serve as well as the officers they are responsible for directing to calls on the radios,” the letter continues in regard to dispatch personnel.

About 10 people work in the Communications Division at police headquarters, according to Mayor Jon Cawley, but he said some also are part of the administrative unit.

So it is not known how many employees could lose their jobs if Mount Airy worked out some agreement for calls to instead be handled through Surry County Communications.

Cawley said nothing concrete has been decided at this time, with the matter still at the exploratory stage. “Really, it’s premature for me to even comment.”

The mayor explained that the county government was approached with the idea of possibly taking over the communications tasks around July 1 by former City Manager Stan Farmer, who resigned on July 21.

“One of the last things Mr. Farmer did before he left was checking with the county to see what it would cost us,” said Cawley, who described this as part of ongoing efforts to control expenses.

“We’re looking at how to be as efficient in every area that we can,” the mayor added. “We’re just looking at costs.”

About the same time when Mount Airy contacted Surry County on the communications matter, it also began soliciting bids from sanitation companies for taking over residential garbage collections in town.

But when briefed on the bid results from three entities during an Aug. 17 meeting, the city council learned that those collections are handled much more cheaply in-house and the privatization idea was trashed.

Unlike the sanitation situation, that involving police communications has not been on the agenda for any public meeting.

The mayor also said that no discussions have been held between council members and Police Department officials.

Police Chief Dale Watson did not respond to a request last week seeking his comment on the potential communications phaseout.

Answer awaited

Since the departure of Farmer, Interim City Manager Darren Lewis has picked up the ball on pending matters left behind, including the police issue.

Lewis has contacted the county government to see where it was at present, according to the mayor, who said some answer regarding the monetary terms could come in about two weeks.

Cawley said if there is a personnel shakeup, efforts will be made to help “the people who work for us,” without elaborating.

He referred to the uncertainty of a scenario when folks are worried about losing their jobs.

“I know that can be unnerving to people.”

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Source: https://www.mtairynews.com

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