LOOKING AHEAD: PUBLIC SAFETY AGENCIES
This is part of a continuing series of stories examining what to expect in 2014, from government to courts to schools.
GREENFIELD — Local public safety agencies will be making some changes and implementing new programs in 2014 to make sure citizens are kept safe.
From upgrading equipment to managing manpower to be more effective, the year’s projects are planned well in advance, officials say.
Here’s a look at what’s ahead for some of the county’s most prominent public safety agencies:
Greenfield Police Department
Assuring officers have the proper equipment to do their jobs is at the top of the 2014 priority list for the Greenfield Police Department.
Namely, Police Chief John Jester said, that means replacing more than a dozen squad cars in the department’s fleet.
“The guys take great care of them, but we’re getting to the point where we’re starting to have problems with them,” Jester said.
The department will have to carefully consider what make and model of vehicle to purchase, because Ford no longer makes the Crown Victoria. That model has become synonymous with police cars, Jester said.
Jester also hopes to better connect with members of the community in 2014. While the department is not planning an official neighborhood watch program, Jester said he would like to have better partnerships with residents in city neighborhoods.
That way, if a problem does arise, there is an established open line of communication between citizens and law enforcement.
“People can give us information; we can share information with them,” Jester said. “Will it work? I don’t know. Won’t cost anything to try, other than time.”
GPD is also planning to bring back its block party program, which has proved popular in years past. Typically, the department holds an essay contest inviting members of the public to write in and provide reasons why their neighborhood should receive a free cookout sponsored by GPD.
The event builds relationships between officers and community members in a positive atmosphere, Jester said.
The same came be said of the department’s citizen’s academy, which Jester plans to bring back in 2014.
The citizen’s academy invites members of the public to the department for a multiweek class that provides a behind-the-scenes look at the job of a police officer.
Larry Ervin, emergency management director, said EMA’s focus for 2014 will be strengthening its newly developed Community Organizations Active in Disasters group.
The local COAD, which includes the Salvation Army, American Red Cross and other agencies, coordinates local resources already in place from a variety of disciplines to streamline emergency and disaster relief response.
Working under the umbrella of emergency management, the COAD will fill the gaps for short-term, immediate and long-term recovery efforts.
The group will coordinate efforts primarily in providing food and shelter for victims and first responders, long-term rebuilding and recovery, assisting incoming volunteers and materials and accommodating pets during times of crisis.
A variety of organizations have the capability to help out during an emergency, but working together and making sure everyone knows their role is critical, Ervin said.
“They’ve all kind of been players in the past, but not on the same page and coordinated,” he said. “It’s much-needed, and it’s kind of late in coming. We’re to the point now where that was the next cog in the wheel for us … to help with the future disaster response … in the county.”
Other efforts coming up this year include improving disaster assessment through the purchase of iPads that volunteers can take into the field in the event of a disaster.
EMA is expecting to receive $5,000 in grant funding from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which will be used to buy 12 iPads that will be stored at the county’s Emergency Operations Center.
Hancock County Sheriff’s Department
The department spent much of 2013 being short-staffed, and Sheriff Mike Shepherd said he is also looking forward to having all hands on deck this year.
Deputy Christie McFarland is returning to work after an injury put her on extended leave, and the county can now move forward with hiring a replacement for Deputy Scott Roeger, who resigned this month after a three-month suspension stemming from criminal charges.
Also, two newly hired deputies are completing their training this spring and should be released to road duty by summer.
“When we get everybody going, … now, there’ll be 29 road officers,” Shepherd said. “That is the most road officers this department has had.”
The department’s manpower needs were never more obvious than during the recent winter storms, Shepherd said.
“Snowstorm, you probably couldn’t get enough officers on the road,” he said.
The department’s call volume has increased, and Shepherd hopes having more officers on the road will make for quicker response times, as well as allow officers to be more proactive during patrols.
Shepherd said he wants to have deputies work in housing additions and work other traffic details.
He is also weighing whether to dedicate a deputy or small team of deputies to drug investigations, which have been lacking somewhat in the county’s law enforcement coverage since the department’s drug task force disbanded in 2010 after drug-buy money went missing.
Shepherd said he also has an eye on the department’s investigations unit, which could use an additional detective. He has not committed to moving another officer into investigations but said it’s something he’ll consider in 2014.
Like GPD, the sheriff’s department, too, plans to hold a citizens’ academy this year. The department hosted its first-ever academy last year and hopes to build on its success, Shepherd said.
Greenfield Fire Department
Late last year, Greenfield Fire Department officials announced their plans to launch the county’s first hazardous materials team in 2014.
The team’s 17 members recently underwent an 80-hour state-mandated training course to become certified hazardous materials technicians. The final step is to secure funding to cover the cost of equipment.
The effort makes sense for several reasons, fire officials said. First, Greenfield sits at the intersection of two major highways, Ind. 9 and U.S. 40, and also has Interstate 70 cutting through its central portion. Second, the county is home to a variety of industries whose work involves numerous chemicals that, if handled improperly or spilled, could be dangerous.
Roberts said the creation of a hazmat team has been a priority for more than a year, and officials are now in a position to move forward.
Fire Chief James Roberts said the department is still seeking corporate sponsorships to cover the cost of equipment. He expects many of the donations will come from local industries that could benefit from having a hazmat team on call.
The total cost falls somewhere between an estimated $100,000 and $150,000. That will cover hazmat suits, a specialized truck and meters used by team members to detect the presence of certain chemicals.
Roberts said establishing a corporate partnership takes time, but he has had positive feedback from industry leaders so far and expects the team to be operational this year.
“I’m very confident this will get off the ground, whether it’s next week or next month or whatever,” he said. “It’s just a matter of waiting to find out when.”