Independence Police Department Maj. Travis Forbes calls it a vicious cycle: Uniform patrol officers would like to solve problems effectively and eliminate calls for service in certain areas.

Independence Police Department Maj. Travis Forbes calls it a vicious cycle: Uniform patrol officers would like to solve problems effectively and eliminate calls for service in certain areas.

The issue exists when officers are constantly responding to calls for service and are taken away from time needed to solve problems and prevent crimes, Forbes said.

“If we had more personnel, we’d be able to problem solve right,” said Forbes, the Patrol Division commander, Tuesday afternoon during the citizens public safety services task force’s weekly meeting. Through the course of 10 weeks, task force members will study in-depth the existing resources of the fire and police departments and will present its findings and recommendations to city staff and to the Independence City Council.

Despite the police department’s efforts in 2009, Priority 1 call response times were reduced by 8 seconds for an average response time of 7 minutes, 21 seconds.

The department’s goal is an average response time of less than 5 minutes for such calls, which include a reported life-threatening emergency. Independence police have experienced an 87 percent increase in Priority 1 calls for service from 2000 to 2009, with calls increasing from 4,488 to 8,421 annually.

“We’re not happy with that,” Forbes said.

Most of the department’s blackout occurs around shift changes because officers are taken off of the streets in 30-minute segments and calls start backing up, according to Police Chief Tom Dailey. (Blackout refers to all of the patrol officers on duty already responding to calls.) 

“We have an overtime budget, and the city is constantly hammering us on keeping our overtime down because it just eats up the city budget,” said Dailey, adding that 12-hour shifts keep consistency among the department’s patrol officers.

To make a significant change, Forbes said, the police department needs four additional policing districts, which would result in the need for 24 additional Patrol Division personnel. The department is now looking at reconfiguring its districts, the area of responsibility for officers, Forbes said.

The ultimate goal, Forbes said, is to have smaller districts so officers can spend more time problem solving within communities and answer calls for service.

Several task force members questioned the regular presence of police officers  at Hawthorne Place Apartments, a government-subsidized, low-income housing apartment complex. Dailey said crime and disorder are “under control” at Hawthorne, located east of Missouri 291 on U.S. 24.

“You can’t measure what you prevent in a place like Hawthorne,” said Dailey, comparing the situation to a constant police presence in the Independence Center shopping area. “It’s well worth it to us to always have a police presence out there.”

Grants sometimes present challenges for the police department. In the upcoming 2010-11 fiscal year, two human trafficking detectives were eliminated because of an end to grant funding, as well as the elimination of funding for one victim advocate.

The city of Independence will pick up the remaining expenses in its general fund for several positions whose grant funding ended, including part of a criminal analyst position and two domestic violence detectives. Dailey said most grant positions are usually funded for three years to some degree. The city must agree to fund the positions after the grant runs out, he said.

Task force chairman Tom Weir asked whether grant-funded staff positions are effective in staffing a police force. According to Dailey, it depends on the mission of the grant-funded position.

“Sometimes, we don’t have a choice like with the domestic violence positions,” he said. “If it’s a critical mission and you don’t have the people, you’re almost forced to go out and get them. On a whole, I don’t think it is a viable way to police a city. You build up expectations in the city that it’s hard to undo.”

Following last week’s first task force meeting, member Gary Hisch responded to why he wanted to serve on the Independence City Council-appointed committee. Hisch said he likes staying involved in city affairs and considers himself “an idea man.” He said he wants to ensure that the city examines all of its resources and is creative in seeing if additional funds exist.

“I can’t think of anything more important than public safety,” said Hisch, who says he supports the mayor and City Council as a whole but thinks it’s OK to challenge and to question them occasionally. “I’m not a lapdog. I’m a pretty independent guy, and I’m going to tell it as I see it.”