Smithville Police and Fire Departments Both Want Old Fire Hall

September 15, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

Smithville Police Chief Richard Jennings has made a request of the Mayor and Aldermen that apparently is not setting well with the Smithville Volunteer Fire Department.

Chief Jennings wants to expand the police department into the old fire hall, now that the fire department has moved into the new fire hall.

Chief Jennings came before the Mayor and Aldermen Monday night to formally make the request.

Chief Jennings says the police department needs extra space to store records, house equipment and the K-9 dog, and to more securely bring in prisoners for processing. "What I'm asking the board to do is to approve the expansion of the police department into the old fire hall. We need a sally port. One bay would be used to bring prisoners in, remove them from the vehicles, and bring them into the department for processing. Generally when we have problems with prisoners it's when we exit the patrol cars and start toward the building. We need that (space) to unload these prisoners in a secure area. I understand the doors (to the firehall) have electric openers on them. We could put one in each car and when an officer pulls up, he could raise the door, pull in, lower the door, and remove the prisoner from the vehicle"

"Another bay would be used to place a 10 x 10 pre-fabricated dog pen in there to hold our drug dog. Due to the high price of gasoline, we can no longer leave our K-9 in the patrol unit with the air conditioner running, so we have to bring him into the police department. When we bring him into the police department, we do not have a place to put him. There could be a danger of the dog biting a citizen that comes in. Another down side is the dog could use the bathroom in the floor in the police department, and we'd have to clean it up. If we had that bay, we could put the K–9 out there in that. Also when the K-9 officer goes on vacation or has to be out of town, we have to pay a board bill on the dog. So we could place the dog in a cage there and we could feed and water him which would reduce the cost that we would have to put out for paying a board bill. That would save us some money. "

"We have an emergency response van over here in this old building across the street. We would like to secure it in the other bay in a more secure area than what it is now because when it's fully equipped and everything, the equipment we have on it certainly needs to be in a secured area."

"The office back there (in the old fire hall) would be used to conduct police business and it would relieve some of the overcrowding in the present offices that we are experiencing each day. The smaller room in the old fire hall would be used for a records room. We currently have records stored upstairs here. We have five large filing cabinets containing arrest files stored in the city tax department and when the front office closes, we do not have access to these records. And when the secretary needs to look through the records upstairs, she has to come all the way upstairs and go into the storage room to view those records. If we are given the old fire department, we would be able to move all our records down there and we would have them in the police department"

" The police department is a full time agency that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We have ten full time officers who work 12 hour shifts, one chief, one secretary, and one officer who is on medical leave. We have approximately 1, 420 square feet of usable office space in the department and we're operating in very cramped quarters. So I come before you tonight to ask you to allow us to expand into the old fire hall."

Smithville Fire Chief Charlie Parker says even though the fire department is now in the new addition, the old fire hall is still needed and he asked that the council take no action until a meeting is held to give his fellow firefighters, who are opposed to the request, an opportunity to be heard. "Before you make any decision on that I wish you would look into it and ask these ladies and gentlemen (firefighters) their opinion. I figured this day would come when someone would try to move into some of our space. I did make them (firefighters) a promise that if that did happen, we would have a meeting and they could express their comments and concerns. I would ask that you look into that very closely. Some of you are new and don't know what promises were made (by previous city officials) when we were doing that (new building) because we tried to get a little more expansion on the bottom floor but we were told we could retain our old stuff."

"At present we still have a squad vehicle that's parked in there (old fire hall). We also have the exercise equipment. We have managed to obtain exercise equipment for the firefighters and their families to use. That's one of the few perks that they do get."

"We're not through growing yet, unless you want to stop us. We have been an aggressive department. We have managed to purchase some class-A equipment, obtain class-A training, and we have some class-A firemen.. We want to continue growing. Mr. Hendrixson had asked me about using one of the bays as a sally port to get prisoners in and out. I said we could probably work something out where they could do that, but we're still not through growing. When we get another vehicle we're going to need a place to put it. We would like to add some full time personnel. We would like to add more equipment. We want to continue to grow or you can stop us and we can go back. It's entirely up to the city council as to what we do from this point. We can go forward or we can go backward. Not just on this matter, but other things."

Alderman Tonya Sullivan made a motion that the council take no action at Monday night's meeting. Alderman Steve White seconded the motion. The other three aldermen, Cecil Burger, Willie Thomas, and Jerry Hutchins, Sr. all voted in favor of the motion,

Alderman White, who is the Police and Fire Commissioner, said he was unaware of the request prior to Monday night's meeting. "It was mentioned to possibly be a safer place for the police department to bring in prisoners, but taking over the whole fire hall was not ever mentioned to me until now. I think we do need to meet with the fire department to see their side of it and how they are using this facility because it's like Charlie said this was in the plans when we planned the other (new) fire hall. It was to go along with the new fire hall. It's not like they were abandoning the (old) fire hall. They are still using it."

Members of the fire department issued a brief statement Tuesday morning responding to some of Chief Jennings' comments Monday night. In the statement, the fire fighters say "the SWAT van Richard (Jennings) is referring to WILL NOT fit into the old firehall. It's too tall. That space (fire hall) is NOT air conditioned. Therefore they couldn't put their (drug) dog in there anyway. There's a large hose dryer in one of the rooms. The room was built around it. The entire wall would have to be demolished to get it out. If and when the fire department gets a ladder truck, the Rescue Van would have to be kept in the old firehall. This means two bays would be in use (Service Company Van and Rescue Van).

In other business Monday night, the aldermen voted 4 to 1 to grant a request by Police Lieutenant Steven Leffew that the city pay his salary while he is off duty on a ten week training course in police management in Nashville

The course will be from October 6th until December 19th.

Leffew told the Mayor and Aldermen Monday night that he initially applied for a two week school in supervision of police personnel, but that course was canceled. His application for financial aid for the ten week course in staff and command training was approved and his tuition of $3,200 will be fully funded including the costs of his lodging and meals. Leffew requested that the city pay his salary during the ten weeks while he is in the course, but no overtime or drive time.

Police Chief Richard Jennings raised some concerns about Leffew's request. According to Chief Jennings, Leffew is the department's only evidence technician, meaning no other officer, including himself, is authorized to enter the evidence room, for accountability reasons. "It would be ten weeks before we could enter or get anything out of the evidence room. If the city puts someone in his place while he's gone, I would request they be certified as an evidence technician and an inventory be made of the evidence room before the new person comes in."

As far as his absence, Lieutenant Leffew said the department has a relief officer (Nathan Estes) whose job is to fill in for other police officers during their absence. As for the evidence room, Leffew says fellow officers have been appointed to oversee evidence in the department before, when he was away on vacation.

Chief Jennings says during the ten week period when Leffew is off duty, other officers may also have to miss work due to sickness or other reasons and that this could create an overtime problem since the relief officer couldn't possibly cover for all the absences. Jennings added that he will be taking a vacation himself around that period of time.

According to the Chief, the city will incur additional expenses, not accounted for in the police department budget, in order to meet Leffew's request and he further suggested that it might also set a precedent. "If other officers ask for ten weeks of training we would be hard pressed to refuse them."

Alderman Steve White, who is also the Police Commissioner, made a motion that the city grant Leffew's request and pay his salary while he is enrolled in the ten week training course because of his longevity with the city. White said he believes the police department has enough employees to cover for Leffew in his absence. "We shouldn't have to hire another employee. We have ten full time officers and one part time officer and with the 12 hour shifts, they don't all work all the time."

Alderman White added that Chief Jennings initially signed off on Leffew's request to apply for the financial assistance to take this course and he believes the city should not deny Leffew the opportunity to receive this training.

After the meeting, White said he believes officers, in the future, who seek training should first come before the city council to receive approval, before making application for the course or the financial assistance.

Aldermen Cecil Burger, Willie Thomas, and Tonya Sullivan all voted in favor of White's motion. Alderman Jerry Hutchins, Sr. voted against it.

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