What some residents thought would be a grilling of the Payson Police Department by the town council, turned out to be a genial session of give-and-take.
The council reviewed PPD policies, procedures and programs Feb. 5.
The review also provided an opportunity for the PPD to share its concerns and priorities for the coming year.
At the top of the department's list is improving its response time. Councilor Robert Henley gave Chief Gordon Gartner a chance to discuss that when he asked what was the top item on the chief's list of things to implement, change or improve.
"We would like to reduce our response time to priority one and priority two calls. We try to have three officers respond to crimes of violence. Four is good in domestic violence calls, that way you have two officers dealing with each party, but that is hard to do," Gartner said.
Priority one calls are those that involve life-threatening action. The department's current response time to these calls is seven minutes and 38 seconds, Gartner said. Calls designated as priority two are those where there is a threat to property. Response time is presently about 19 minutes and 13 seconds, the chief said.
However, the statistics used to determine the average response time includes the county calls to which the department's officers respond.
The police department backs up the Gila County Sheriff's Department and they exchange the favor. The same arrangement exists with the Department of Public Safety, Gartner explained.
Councilor Bryan Siverson asked if more dispatchers or more officers were needed to improve the response time.
Gartner said the solution would be in having more officers available.
Siverson's question led to a discussion of the department's dispatch services.
Gartner, in a written report to the council, said, "We have a concern that our 911-telecommunication system is at its maximum workload capacity. The fact is that we receive between 700 and 850 9-1-1 calls per month. We also receive between 40,000 and 50,000 non-police/fire emergency calls."
Gartner said there is adequate dispatch service for day shift, but four more dispatchers are needed to provide the appropriate level for a full 24 hours. He said the cost of four more dispatchers would be about $150,000 for salary, benefits and additional pay for a lead dispatcher.
Currently the department has six full-time dispatchers, two part-time and one communications supervisor, Bradley told the council.
Responding to Henley, Gartner said Payson's dispatch turnover is no worse than anywhere else, in fact, some dispatchers who have left the department are now wanting to return.
Bradley said it takes six to 12 months on the job to become an effective dispatcher, and all of Payson's are effective, except for one who has only been on the job for four months.
Another concern of Gartner is patrol officers not having "enough time to engage in preventative activities and patrol neighborhoods and businesses. Their time is primarily devoted to responding to calls for service."
Additional concerns expressed by Gartner in his report to the council:
- Keeping PPD salaries competitive;
- Examine the need for a full-time traffic enforcement officer;
- Continue the successful Methamphetamine Enforcement Program; and
- The records system is bogging down, a routine police report may take six to eight weeks to work its way through the system.
The council was especially interested in the PPD plan to expand its volunteer program and attempts to reactivate a reserve.
Gartner told the council he would like the volunteer corps expanded to 75. It is currently set at 50.
Discussions are being held with Pima Community College and the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board about starting another police reserve academy in Payson.