An increase in force
In regard to the article on the police budget in Rockaway, when considering increases in funding for the police and fire departments we need to know why these increases are requested and also what resources are available. In the case of the police department, a third officer was added to the force in 1985 and a fourth officer was added in 2013. In 1985, there were about 1,500 calls for service. In 2016 there were 4,714 calls. From 2007 to 2016 there was an average of 390 or so traffic citations issued by officers; in 2016, the number had increased to about 600 – an increase of more than 50 percent. In the period 2009 – 2014 there was an average of 21 arrests per year. In 2016 there were 90, and in 2017 more than 120 – an increase of some 470 percent. I think it’s safe to assume that the rate of crime has not increased by 470 percent in the last seven years, and so the increase in arrests is an indication that more people are being apprehended. This means that the citizens of Rockaway Beach are receiving better police protection due to increase in coverage and so we need to ask if it would be wise to decrease the police department’s budget. The average percentage of the Rockaway Beach general fund going to the police department since 2010 has been 48 percent. The 2017-2018 share is 47 percent.
Some other matters not properly discussed relate to the purchase of special after-market tires etc. for an unmarked police car. Since police cars may be involved in chases, etc. it is important that the equipment be in top form. The same goes for fire equipment, which is why the fire department purchased after-market tires for its wild land fire truck. I am sure that no one would begrudge the purchase of equipment for police and fire vehicles that will make them safer and more reliable to operate. Also, there was a comment about police chief Stewart not participating in patrols for some period of time. That was because he was on full medical leave, from which he has returned. In addition, although four officers might be considered by some to be excessive for a town of 1,300 residents, the number of people in Rockaway Beach is often quite a bit larger than that – this is a tourist community and has a lot of visitors and many motels. On the Fourth of July, for example, the population about triples and there is a certain amount of rowdiness – it’s hard to have full protection with only two officers.
The budget committee for Rockaway should certainly look at the needs for the Police and Fire Departments. This should be done in light of all the statistics and facts. Additionally, it would be appropriate for these two agencies to work together with an emergency planning committee to prepare response plans for emergencies such as extended power outages, flooding, earthquakes and tsunamis.
Police and fire funding
In regard to the article on police budgets in Rockaway Beach there is another matter that needs to be considered, namely the sources of funding for the police and fire departments.
Both departments are of critical importance for Rockaway. But the police department has no reserve funds and, while it does receive donations, they are deposited into the city general fund. The fire department has a reserve fund of more than $150,000, raised from donations and other sources, and a non-profit account of $100,000. That puts the fire department in a more comfortable financial position than the police department.
That needs to be considered when looking at needs and establishing budgets.
Cutting police would be a grave error
Response to the front page article published Dec. 26 regarding the police force in Rockaway Beach and the budget.
To me, it sounds like Mr. Dave May has an axe to grind in regard to the police. There was a letter sent to the Headlight-Herald the first week in December regarding this same subject by Dave May. He has made several accusations without any details as to why he is trying so hard to get rid of the police. I have heard of several different items that could possibly be a part of this story.
Mr. May fixes city vehicles and gets paid for doing that. However, does he currently hold a business license to perform these jobs? Does he worry about this? Mr. May did hold office a few times (mayor and city council) but was recalled from those positions twice. Why? Why does he say that the chief does not do his job?
Mr. May complained about good tires on the undercover vehicle. A few years ago he also complained about the police buying a new vehicle after one of the officers made a U-turn in response to a call and the wheel and axel fell off. Does Mr. May not want safe vehicles for police business? Our officers put on so many miles that the vehicles are worn out in two-three years. Keeping anything older than that costs more to repair than the payment for a new one. The last vehicle to go was a 2007 – after serving for 10 years.
Lastly, no other department in this town puts in the time and expectations of the job. Our police put in a huge amount of time patrolling our neighborhoods, chasing/catching the people who steal from the stores, homes, and cars in this town. This department was set up by Chief Ed Wortman by the City Council in an effort to clean up our town. At that time, there was no record of Calls for Service. The first year, 2006, there were 1,700 which grew to 3,800 in 2014, his last year. Chief Stewart has made sure all our officers are highly trained to perform their duties.
I think it would be a very grave error to cut the police presence down to one person. That is just insane. No one wants to work 24/7 to begin with, and then to cut it to where no one person, house, or store is safe does not make sense. Mr. May complained about the overtime. Can you imagine a police officer saying, “Oops, my eight hours is up, I’m going home and you with the gun can go”?