Op Ed: On Police Cars, Dispatch System, and Hiring Cops

Full disclosure before this opinion-editorial piece begins. Yes, I do have police friends. Yes, I have talked with city workers so have gathered information from many reliable sources. No, I do not have all the answers, but I do have some answers. Yes, this is my opinion – one of which you may agree with or not. It is my personal opinion, but it is based on listening to the first-hand experiences and insights of those who do know the conditions of the current fleet, the current dispatch system, and the challenges faced by a relatively small number of officers.

So let’s go back a few months. Last summer there was much talk about a warning alert system for the city. When taxes were increased, this system was one of those items in the budget and it amounted to about one cent of that increase. In the end, the brakes were put on the system when it was learned that grant funding was a possibility to help pay for it.  This had not been disclosed to elected officials previously.  When Homeland Security grants could potentially pay for at least half the system, it made good financial sense to table the system on behalf of taxpayers to investigate a secondary funding option.

So the original one cent tax collection is still alive and well and unspent in the budget.

Remember that taxes went up 50 cents total?  What were the other 49 cents earmarked for?  Yes, there will be road repairs that will begin this spring, now that taxes are being collected. Yes, the city is purchasing some much needed equipment, including a street paver.  Also of note is that the 50 cent tax increase also was so budgeted in order to buy new police cars that would be cycled out through a lease system.  I understand that several years ago, the vehicle cycling program was started, but leadership never followed through with it.  As a result, significant funding has instead been spent on repairs.  I saw the chief driving a car over the weekend that literally had a wooden wedge stuck in a back window that was holding the window up. If our fleet was a human, you could diagnose it with kidney failure and the dialysis is barely keeping it alive.  How expensive is dialysis?  In the case of our fleet, the city paid $300,000 in vehicle repairs last year alone.  So yes – to prepare for the inevitable complete failure of the fleet, city officials HAD to raise taxes.

During the life of the lease, the cars would be under warranty.  At the end of the lease, the city could opt to purchase them outright or cycle them out. Yes it is an expensive endeavor in the beginning of the cycle, however (and this part is important to note), in the long run it will save the city thousands and thousands of dollars.  To me – and again this is my opinion – I would rather make this investment in public safety to adequately equip our police to protect and serve than to keep them driving in cars that are literally falling apart.  When repair work costs more each year than a vehicle is actually worth, that is a problem.

What do we do with the run-down vehicles once the new cars arrive?  Sell them on govdeals.com. The city web page has a link to city property that is no longer of use.  And hey if you go there right now, you’ll also see boxes and boxes of books for sale right now.

We also have a failing CAD (or computer aided dispatch) system. Chief Walker has stated it would cost $800,000 to replace it.  It might cost that. It might cost less than that.  The good news is if it costs less than that, we have $500,000 that was originally available for a warning system that went unspent, but taxes are still being collected for it.

Again my personal opinion, but I am all for making sure 911 calls are not lost.  I am just not willing to take the chance (even when it’s a tiny itty-bitty chance) that a life or death call will be lost.  Dispatchers type addresses in via keyboard as they gather information.  If an officer has been dispatched and asks again, “repeat the address” and the CAD system has lost it, then we depend on the memory of the dispatcher to repeat the address if the system hiccups.  In human terms, we now have kidney failure (police cars), plus congestive heart failure (the CAD system).

Let’s talk about the number of officers we have next.  Starting pay is just over $13.00 per hour for LaVergne police officers.  A meter reader on average according to salary.com earns $12.70 per hour.  A front office clerk is paid $14.50 per hour.  A dental assistant makes $12.50 per hour.  A roofer makes over $14.00 per hour.  We are so lucky in LaVergne to have police officers so dedicated to us that they do not jump ship and go to other jurisdictions. Yes, they give tickets. Yes, people get mad at them.  But they were hired to uphold the law and they do just that. If you don’t like a particular law (for example, I hate the 35 mph speed limit on some roads when really it should be 40), talk to the lawmakers. No, they will not fix your ticket, but they have the authority given to them by majority vote of the people to change laws.

But we’re talking about the police now.  Let’s face it.  LaVergne has a pretty crappy reputation for crime.  But we also have a highly trained police force including a crime suppression unit, SWAT team, criminal investigators, and patrol officers who are dedicated to reversing the reputation.  We have already seen a reduction in crime from 2010 to 2011.  And to use Chief Mike Walker’s words, more boots on the street mean less crime.

Here’s another little gem to consider.  That tax increase?   It allowed for more police to be hired.  So again, the money is there.

Taxes are being collected to improve this city.  Let’s allow the city to grow up and make these improvements.   Go ahead and ask questions because it’s our right, it’s your right. But keep an open mind and consider that perhaps the department directors know what they’re doing when they ask for equipment. Consider the police know what they’re saying when their cars are limping along. Consider that these elected folks really are working toward making this a better place to live.

9 comments for “Op Ed: On Police Cars, Dispatch System, and Hiring Cops

  1. Cynthia Murphy
    February 19, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    You are my hero! Thank you!

    • Lola D.
      February 19, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      No. You are MY hero, Lieutenant Murphy.

  2. Sherry
    February 19, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Terrific post and lots of details I didn’t know. I “like” this times 1,000!

  3. steve noe
    February 19, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Will not matter how many times you or whoever writes this in balck and white,draw pictures or shown on a draft, some folks will find a way to turn it inside out and upside down to make it sound like someone at city hall has no clue what they doing. Waste of your time trying to explain. In the words of Ron White “You just can’t fix stupid”

  4. steve noe
    February 19, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    They need to stop being a prisoner of the past and become the architect of the future

  5. auntyoya
    February 19, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    I am very proud of our city and the strides we are taking to move in a positive direction. Our police chief and our officers deserve our respect and admiration for cleaning this city up and I personally have seen the improvements in my own neighborhood! I would definitely love to see our officers receive a huge increase in pay and hope they find something in the budget soon for that! Kudos to Lola for this information and Kudos to our elected officials and the entire police department for their conjoined efforts to make LaVergne the best city we can be!!

  6. tony
    February 20, 2012 at 12:37 am

    i think this is a awesome write up thank you lola for doing this,it seem like alot of work to do this its very nice to have people to do the home work BEFORE they posted and not just off the top of there heads ,thanks again

    • Linda
      February 20, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Very good article, just wish it had come out earlier. So many people cannot attend the city meetings so all they have to go on is what they hear and a lot don’t even know they can watch the meetings on TV. Even at that a lot of stuff is hard to understand unless you are involved in the process, I could probably go through a budget and still not know what I am looking at. For most citizens all we hear is something going up and coming out of our pockets, I will admit that as a citizen of La Vergne for 30 plus years I have only in the past year started attending city meetings, didn’t even know they were open to the public. When I first heard the Chief talk about the CAD system and dropped calls I thought he just meant calls were dropped and we all know about dropped calls especially on cell phones and I have seen comments and heard people that think the same thing so like with this the more information put out the less confusion. My opinion, it is better this way than having 30,000 people trying to call the mayor or aldermen with questions and even explaining things still will not ensure that all will agree on things. We all would love to see everybody get the equipment, raises etc., but all of us also have our own wish list with things that we can’t have, we too have budgets that are passed being able to add new things to but when forced we have to make cuts on something to find a way for the new and the things that are needed have to come first, so again Thank You for this more detailed explanation on this issue. I have always been taught that there are No Stupid Questions and to ask questions does not make the citizens of La Vergne stupid. Without questions we cannot learn.

  7. Chris Farmer
    February 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I been going back and forth on whether to post on here about this and finally decided to go ahead. I would like to start off by saying LPD do not just work for me since I am Vice Mayor most are my friends. I work with them all on a daily basis, so yes I may be a little biased on my opinion.

    The CAD system is failing we have established that. I think the problem that a lot of people fail to see is that once you recognize something like this is happening you have a duty to fix it. I feel like if there is a single 911 call dropped it is unacceptable. I can not put a price on anyones life. If it were my wife or children that needed 911 and the call was dropped and I knew they knew there was a problem I would hire a lawyer and sue. I may not win but I can assure you my point would come across and you would rectify the problem.

    I have went into detail on the Police cars and more officers before so I won’t start on that again. Everyone knows how I feel.

    Now on a completely different note. There have been comments made (not here) about Emergency services that have really bothered me. I can assure you no matter what you have said for or against any emergency worker THEY WILL RESPOND AND TREAT YOU ALL WITH UTMOST RESPECT. We are all professionals and take what we do for a living SERIOUS. We all love what we do or we would not do it. None of it is glorious we do not look for cameras nor do we expect Thank You’s. We just do what we do! So please anyone before you make a statement that an EMT coming to pick you up will likely not help you make it to the hospital or an officer may not respond, think about what you are saying we do not act like that towards anyone.

    As we all may not agree on politics you may be amazed how much you might like someone on a personal level if you would take time to get to know them. This is a large city with a small town atmosphere. Nothing will ever be perfect but each and every citizen and employee should treat everyone as they would like to be treated.

    Emergency workers put their lives on the line everyday for us just as our military does, so when you do call 911 expect nothing but the BEST! Because that is what you are going to get here in La Vergne.

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