Posted 5/31/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The Tioga police reserves are on “stand down” as a result of concerns the city no longer has enough full-time licensed officers to support the volunteers.
The volunteer reserve officers receive the same training as licensed police officers and can perform the same duties, but they are not permitted to operate without a full-time police officer on duty.
The reserve board voted last week to suspend all operations following personnel cuts to the city police force, which eliminated two administrative positions in the department.
The board is concerned about the city trying to satisfy the town’s police service needs with volunteers.
“We are not designed to replace any full timers. We were only supposed to be supplementary,” said board member Jeff Spivey.
Spivey has been a reservist for a few years and is one of the employees whose position was cut from the department.
City Auditor Abby Salinas said the city is going to utilize the reserve force as they have in the past, but there were never any intentions of using the volunteer officers to replace full-time employees.
“I’m sorry they feel that’s what we’re doing,” she said.
According to Chief Larry Maize, the officers were not in use for the past month and the vote of the reserve board made the “stand down” official.
As part of an overhaul of the entire city budget in which cuts were made to a number of departments, the reserves had their city funding cut from $10,000 per year to $5,000.
“For $10,000 you get a lot of free labor,” Spivey said.
Spivey had been overseeing the reservists, and now Officer Sean Duisen, Spivey said, would need to be trained to take over that duty.
The board is currently in the process of training a new police dog to replace one that retired earlier this year. The purchase and initial training costs for the dog came from private donations.
Spivey said these costs came to more than $15,000.
The city covered the cost of care of the city’s two police dogs, as well as training expenses incurred by the officer who handled the dog.
The board voted to allow the city to use a new police dog only so long as the city meets certain obligations, including adequate funding for the dog’s care and assurance of the ongoing employment of the dog’s handler.
The city will also be required to pay the dog handler’s expenses and wage when she goes for training in Louisiana for up to three weeks at the end of June.
As part of the overall city budget cuts, the funding for the care of the department’s two police dogs was cut from $20,000 down to $5,000.
Spivey said he was looking at ways to move funding within the department around to increase that amount when he was laid off.
“Medical treatment for a police K9 is expensive if necessary . . . It should be available,” Spivey said.
Reserve board member Russ Papineau also raised concerns about further layoffs in the police department.
“We need some firm footing before we move forward,” Papineau said.
Spivey suggested the option of selling the dog to another agency in the state, if the handler is laid off, and the funds would go back into the reserve.
Papineau said some form of formal agreement should be in place between the city and the board to be certain these obligations are met before the board spends the money for the handler’s training.
Police Commissioner Ronda Davidson said it should be a formal contract and not just a discussion in the commission meeting minutes. With the elections coming, changes in the city commission may not bind the city to any such verbal agreements.
They will present this demand to the commission at the next regular meeting on June 6.
The board voted to sell the department’s second dog, Bave, to Spivey, for $1.
Spivey said while it would cost $8,000 to $10,000, it is quite possible to sell the dog or retrain him for another handler.
“This is all doable,” he said.
He then recused himself from the meeting and left the room while the remaining board members discussed the options and finally voted to sell the dog to Spivey.
Mayor Drake McClelland said he had some concerns about the decision and isn’t sure the retraining figure is accurate.
He said the city invested a lot of money in the dog and since it is years from retirement the board should have given more consideration to other options.
“I’d like to see some answers,” McClelland said.