Milton Police Department draws public comment

Citizens, mayor oppose outside study; call for ad hoc committee
April 4, 2013

Milton Town Council will not seek the help of a consulting firm to analyze its police department, at least for now.

After residents voiced concerns about the cost of a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, council tabled any decision and is leaning toward establishing an ad hoc committee composed of knowledgable residents.

Mayor-elect Marion Jones shared the concerns of the residents, saying she was not impressed with information provided about the IACP and the services it provides. She said didn't believe it would be money well spent.

“[The information] is just mired in such bureaucracy that I think you could almost conduct this survey over the phone,” she said. “I think it's pretty much written that way. It's bureaucracy at its best.”

The Town of Ocean View used the organization's expertise in 2010, and Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said he was satisfied with the group's findings and suggestions for improvement.

The Milton Police Department's staffing and budget have been hot topics during the past two budget years, prompting Councilman Norman Lester to seek out a study by an unbiased professional organization. Town Manager Win Abbott said it would cost the town $600 per day plus expenses to conduct a study for an estimated cost of about $6,000.

At a March 18 workshop, some residents said too many issues loom over the police department to move forward with a study. Many said an ad hoc committee should be formed before the town explores the help of a professional organization.

“In this town if you throw a penny out a window you'll probably hit a retired policeman,” said resident Jeff Dailey. “There is a wealth of information we could tap into in our town.”

Former Councilwoman Mary Hudson, who was critical of the police department's budget while on council, said the public has many concerns, such as the department's response to calls outside town limits.

“I have expectations of a certain level of police protection,” she said. “I'm not getting it if they're somewhere else. I would like my police to stay here in Milton.”

The town receives more than $20,000 annually from the county to respond to calls outside its jurisdiction. Hudson said she's in favor of cutting the funding in order to keep police officers in town.

“The [money] we're getting from the county is a drop in the bucket, and we could very easily give that up and keep our police inside this district,” she said.

Resident Lynn Ekelund said there would be too many issues for an outside group to explore. She shared Hudson's view on keeping the police in town, but also wants an ad hoc committee to look into the department's take-home car policy, who the chief reports to and the bureaucratic structure of the department's staff.

“An ad hoc committee, which I am in favor of, should look at this,” she said. “I think someone from the police department should be on that ad hoc committee, and I think we should all be looking at it as a community, rather than spending $6,000 to have somebody fill out an off-the-shelf survey.”

Resident Jim Welu said he would like to see all officers, including Chief William Phillips and Capt. John Cornwell, spend a portion of their shift walking the streets and interacting with townspeople.

“They're aware of what's going on in town and the town is aware of who they are, and there's a real presence,” he said. “I think that's an important thing in terms of community policing.”

He said he'd also like to see a better relationship between the police and the town's neighborhood watch.

Resident Joyce Hooper took aim at the department's ballooning overtime pay. The town paid about $30,000 in overtime to the police in 2012 and about the same amount is budgeted for fiscal year 2013.

“There is absolutely no reason for overtime pay,” she said. “Thirty thousand dollars is a lot of money for our little town.”

She said she is also in support of an ad hoc committee.

“I think you're going to have a lot of disagreements, but that's good,” she said. “That's exactly what we need. We need people to open up and communicate with our police department.”

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