Maries County Sheriff’s Deputy Major Scott John asked Mayor Daryl White, Jr., on Nov. 8 what the city planned to do for police services as they only had one employee and the contract is set to …
Maries County Sheriff’s Deputy Major Scott John asked Mayor Daryl White, Jr., on Nov. 8 what the city planned to do for police services as they only had one employee and the contract is set to expire on Dec. 18 — at the end of the 90-day notice.
White asked John during the Maries County Sheriff’s department report if they had anything they wanted to share.
“Not to share, no,” John began. “We are very interested to figure out what your plans are. We have budgets we have to prepare. Plans that we have to make as well.”
John reminded the city that they asked in writing for the sheriff’s department to discontinue the police services contract. Sheriff Chris Heitman originally agreed to let the city out of the contract in 60 days if they were ready with the manpower and equipment. However, the 60-day mark has come and gone (Nov. 22) and Dec. 15 is the county’s final day patrolling the city.
“As of right now, Sheriff Heitman is planning on pulling the plug on Dec. 15 until or unless we can get something else hammered out in writing,” John said. “We know you’re not going to be ready by Dec. 15, but we need to know what you want.”
John said that the sheriff’s department is willing to help them with their setup process.
“We are operating short on deputies right now because we had planned on pulling out of Belle and the officers we have right now can be absorbed into the county so we don’t have to lay anybody off or fire anybody,” John said. “If you’re planning on keeping us here a few more months we can hire. We can operate like that for a couple of months, but if you are wanting to extend it past that we need to come up with a plan so we can decide — we’ve got obligations to taxpayers as well.”
White said the board understands where they are coming from.
“We are still very pro-Belle Police Department,” White said.
John said he understands and wants to help them accomplish that goal.
“Obviously we’ve had some setbacks in the last few days,” White said. “I don’t have a definitive answer for you right now. We are still in the process of working that out. That’s a conversation you need to be a part of and we need to set down and work that out.”
White said the city was working diligently to try to hire help. Since the meeting, former officer Jerry Coborn was promoted to the police chief, and former Maries County deputy Mark Morgan was hired on as a sergeant.
“We really don’t have much to tell you other than as soon as we know, you will know. I promise ya,” White said. “We are gonna have to work together to make this transition go smoothly. Work the time frame out together. I still would very much like to continue going forward like what we are doing. But like I said, we’ve got to be able to do the job and we know that.”
John asked if they planned to hire a full force.
“The thing about that is, in order for us to finance a full-time force — we can’t do it with the sheriff’s department,” White said. “We can’t pay $200,000 a year plus the salary of a full force.”
John said he understood and added that the $200,000 the city was paying was mostly salaries for the four officers that rotated through town, including wages and benefits.
“I know $200,000 sounds like a big number, but when you are paying people $37,000 to $40,000 a year plus $8,000 in benefits, salaries come out to about $50,000 a year,” John said. “I understand you can’t do both.”
John said the departments have discussed the possibility when they hire someone for the Belle Police Department, the sheriff’s department will pull an officer back to the county.
“We can work that, but it is going to have to be a very open conversation,” John said. “We all have financial obligations and commitments to the citizens.”
John said he doesn’t want the deputies to think they will be losing their jobs either.
“I can’t speak for the entire council, I think that we are working on a plan right now,” White said. “I fully believe that we still need to take it back over as soon as possible, but as soon as possible three weeks ago and as soon as possible tonight is two different things.”
John said he understood.
“I told you a few months ago that your number one problem would be in finding qualified personnel,” John added. “There is not an agency in the area that is not struggling to find manpower. For someone reason, no one wants to be a cop anymore.”
John said the sheriff’s department just needs to know what the city needs so they can help and still do their job for the city and county.
“We are still very much in the process of trying to discover, right now — obviously we can’t talk about interviewing and stuff in an open session meeting. It’s personnel issues,” White said. “But when I say ‘in the near future’ I mean in the next days and we promise to keep you guys in the loop as soon as we know what we are going to do. It will be public knowledge.”
Alderman Jeanette Struemph said it is a weekly adventure and White said it is daily.
“We make the joke in the morning…,” White began.
“I can only operate the sheriff’s office on a weekly basis for so long before I have to say, ‘you know what? We’re done on this day,’” John said.
White said he respects that and Alderman Adam Padgett said he respects John’s situation as well.
John reiterated that they can pull officers as the city acquires more people and let the changeover happen more naturally.
“We just need to know what that picture is going to look like,” John said.
White said he can’t speak for the board but there are logistics to navigate both ways.
“To have adequate coverage you are going to have to have four full-time officers,” John said. “Either by the city of Belle, partially by the city and the sheriff’s department, or all by the sheriff’s department. You cannot cover the hours that you need coverage for without four full-time officers.”
White said he agreed, but the city has traditionally survived on three officers in years past and now the population is smaller than it has ever been.
“Crime isn’t what it was years ago,” John said. “Jerry (Coborn) just came from a domestic 30 minutes ago.”
White said he didn’t want to argue the point in the meeting and John said he wasn’t arguing, just explaining.
“Nobody on that table up there has the experience that we have on this table back here,” John said. “We need to share with you our knowledge so you can make the best-informed decisions you can make. That’s all I am trying to do is share information.”
John explained the shift work a police officer typically has.
“To do that you need two people on days and two on nights,” John said and explained how the shifts swap. “If you have one person on days and two on nights you will have days during the week that aren’t covered and someone will be getting overtime. Which is silly because you might as well have another person.”
John offered to show the board the police schedule they keep for the city to have an officer on from 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. every day.
“And we are getting that now?” White asked.
John said yes.
“Does anyone have any questions,” White asked.
“I think we all understand there has to be a time for you to end,” Padgett said. “You guys have your own job to do and your own department to run. This was a secondary project for you all. Honestly, that’s why we wanted to go back to Belle PD because this is your secondary project and we wanted Belle PD for this to be their primary focus.”
Padgett said he gets where the sheriff’s department is and hates where the city is at.
“Sixty-nine days ago when we started this project we was expecting to be further,” White said. “Setbacks have been, uh.”
Padgett said the sheriff’s department and board needed to sit down over the next couple of days to hash out a plan. The board agreed and said maybe Thursday or Friday. John said he was available after Thursday. City Clerk Frankie Horstman said she needs time to post a special meeting if all the aldermen would be in attendance.
“I don’t want to do it this week,” White said. “I don’t want to be pushed into. We’ve got some ideals on some help. If you want to nail down a date for next week, I don’t want to push it for this week and rush it. If you’re hoping — we are going to have to have a special meeting in the next week or two weeks to fill in the alderman position. You will know if the future. I will reach out and see if we can set something up.”
Aldermen have hired one full-time officer and one part-time officer in addition to Coborn since the Nov. 8 meeting.
The city has not scheduled a meeting with the Maries County Sheriff’s Department, which is planning to continue the contract cancelation on schedule.