WATCH NOW: ‘Proactive’, ‘preventive’ services a priority as referendum to hire extra officers nears | Government and politics
PLEASANT PRAIRIE — Nine years ago, when Police Chief David Smetana walked through the gates of the Roger Prange Civic Center on Highway 31, the site of the Village Police Department, he envisioned a staff of 40 officers patrolling within 33 square miles of the village.
But in 2013, when the chief was hired, he had 25 sworn officers on his staff, including himself.
He currently has 36 in the force and is asking for taxpayers’ help to hire four more to maintain services in a community where the population has grown to nearly 22,000, up 10% since his arrival. This population is growing, especially during the day, with the continued development of businesses, commerce, manufacturing and retail in the village.
Over the past decade, the number of calls answered by agents has increased by 7%; and, spread over the last two years, by 12.5%, according to data from the department.
“These are just calls to which officers are called. This ignores self-initiated calls,” he said.
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In the hands of voters
On April 5, voters will be asked to vote on a $1.6 million referendum that would allow the village to fund the hiring of four additional police officers, as well as 12 fire paramedics, starting in 2023.
If the referendum does not pass, Smetana said the department should review how it delivers services and where it should cut back.
“At this point, our community offers a number of things that other communities don’t,” he said. “We still offer holiday vouchers, we still offer a locking service for your car. With holiday vouchers, residents can call us and say “I’m going on holiday, I’m a snowbird, I’m leaving for three months, can you keep an eye on my residence?” And we will.
The department should take a hard look at how it would redistribute services among existing staff — everything from “proactive” and “preventive” patrols to school resource officers should be reassessed, he said.
“Right now we have four detectives and when I came here (as chief) we had two,” he said. “We have therefore increased the services coming from our investigation office in a more efficient and responsible way, so that each investigator carries a workload. If we were to reinforce patrols and withdraw personnel from our investigation office to do so, it will have an impact on the quality of follow-up and the effectiveness of follow-up is essential in investigations.
On the third shift, for example, the village currently has three officers and, with increasing frequency, calls have involved more than one officer responding to a single incident, such as a traffic stop while intoxicated or a mental health call.
“It’s not optimal because what you’re doing at that point is you don’t have enough patrollers to not only cover your calls for duty, but you’re not able to cover those proactive and preventive things that the patrollers do. ,” he said.
In the Village, if officers notice a garage door being left open or bicycles being left on the lawn unattended for any length of time, they will issue an “oops” card warning owners and helping to prevent thefts , did he declare.
The growth of the community in recent years has led to increased traffic issues, particularly along Highway 50, Highway 94, and other major arteries.
“We need to make sure that these roads and travel areas are given enough attention and the way you do it is proactive traffic enforcement,” he said. “And without additional staff to do the proactive things that we want, services suffer.”
Support indicated in the survey
Smetana is referring to the recent Community Survey of Emergency Services, which includes law enforcement, in which 89% of those who responded said it was important to them to maintain the current level of service.
“These proactive things create this perception that they think their community is also safe,” he said. “We have a school resource program…for three elementary schools and one high school. And that should be assessed if we didn’t have enough staff. I don’t want to remove any of these services.
“But at some point you have to look at what your main responsibility is and I think the people who live in the village appreciate the type of law enforcement and public safety with the firefighters. They see the quality of service they get and they understand it,” he said.
Smetana said that as the head of the community’s law enforcement agency, he takes the responsibility of spending taxpayers’ money “very seriously”.
“I also pay taxes, so I understand what taxpayers are going through. We are extremely responsible when it comes to what we spend money on,” he said. “We have an excellent law enforcement agency that provides excellent service and with the cooperation of taxpayers who see the need for it, we will continue to do so.”