The situation facing the Independence Police Department Friday demonstrated the strains taking place on officers’ and public safety alike, one official says.

The situation facing the Independence Police Department Friday demonstrated the strains taking place on officers’ and public safety alike, one official says.

Sgt. John Howe supervises nine officers, but just six of them were patrolling northern Independence on Friday because of training and other reasons.

Three calls, Howe said, left the city “blacked out,” meaning all of the patrol officers on duty were responding to calls. From at least 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, those officers had been running from call to call.

A minimum of two officers are supposed to respond to most calls, Howe said, but sometimes, just one officer responds to better serve the public to respond to a separate call.

“That’s definite officer-safety issues,” he said. “It’s not encouraged.”

Getting back to the basics of public safety, Howe said, should remain the focus as voters consider Tuesday’s ballot question asking them for a real estate tax levy increase that would fund more officers.

“This whole thing has gotten spun into the debt for (The Falls at Crackerneck Creek development) and all sorts of different issues,” he said. “People aren’t focusing on the safety of the public, and that’s really what this is for. With the limited number of officers we have, we’re really putting Band-Aids onto major bleeds.”

Officers don’t have the time or resources to stay for extended periods of time on calls that require more attention, Howe said.

“With additional people,” he said, “we would have that ability.”

For example, Independence police have responded eight times in the past three days to the same residence on reports of violations against a full order of protection, Howe said.

“Day 1, the appropriate amount of time could have been spent on it,” he said. “It’s hard to justify spending extra time on calls when more priorities are coming.”

Opponents of the police tax have criticized the Police Department’s use of statistics, accusing the department of fear mongering. In late February, Maj. Travis Forbes told residents the department is “not trying to say crime is out of control” across the city.

“The way I see it, we’re not necessarily in a crisis, but we see these indicators,” Forbes, commander of the Administrative Services Division, said of encroaching crime, especially from the East Patrol Division of Kansas City. “We see that it very well could be a crisis.”

Howe has a different opinion.

“I’ll say it less politically correct – yes, we are,” he said of the Police Department reaching a crisis situation. “We currently don’t have enough officers to suppress the growing crime.”

In the late 1990s, when Howe started on the department, officers who were nearing retirement took on the day shift “because there wasn’t a whole lot that would go on.”

“Now, there’s times when I come in at 5:30 a.m. and we can’t have a 6 a.m. shift meeting because we’ve got to get the guys out in the field to relieve midnight,” he said, “and then we’re blacked out all day long.”

As president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, Howe said the union consulted with its attorneys to ensure the City Council-approved ordinance that put the measure on the ballot included language for the hiring of more officers and to not supplant existing positions.

Howe said he also pushed for the inclusion of an Independence-residing, F.O.P. member on the citizen oversight committee that will make sure tax dollars are spent as promised. If the tax is approved Tuesday, it will mark the first time in the city’s history that an oversight committee will include a labor union member.

“All of the politics out of it,” Howe said, “we want more officers so we can do a better job of serving this community.”