In December the Teton County commissioners once again denied a request by Sheriff Matt Carr for funds to compensate 911 operators with salaries commensurate with those of patrol officers, opting instead to create a task force to study the issue. This in light of the fact that these positions are continually understaffed, resulting in mandatory overtime to ensure coverage of all shifts along with extending the normal workweek, causing additional stress on an already demanding position.
Pause for a moment to consider what could happen in the event of a disastrous event if we were not were not fully staffed in any area of law enforcement. Any significant delay in answering or dispatching an officer for a 911 call could very well result in serious injury or worse. Although I believe there is a pervasive attitude among too many residents that bad things (a mass shooting, an explosion or an unanticipated natural disaster) cannot happen in our idyllic county, how many of those reading this would be willing to gamble their life or the lives of family members on the chance that it won’t occur?
In the military we are trained to be prepared for any eventuality no matter how remote the possibility. The same holds true for law enforcement personnel.
We continue to ask them to “make do” in their profession while at times allocating funds for projects that benefit a small percentage of the community.
In November voters rejected a specific purpose excise proposal regarding the Teton County Courthouse that directly impacts the judicial branch of local government (and perhaps to some extent local law enforcement personnel). The $2 million proposed was just over 2.5% of the total SPET amount ($77 million) and a majority (almost 58%) of voters deemed it unnecessary. All other items passed.
Just this past week two private citizens donated funds to purchase state-of-the-art protective armor for law enforcement in Wyoming, and 46 sets went to local law enforcement. Total estimated cost is about $61,640. It is one-sixth the weight of the current armor, whose shelf life is about to expire.
Quoting Sgt. Trevor Aiken of the sheriff’s department, “This technology is super expensive, and there is no way we’d be able to pay for it ourselves.”
Sheriff Carr was even more direct when he said, “The value in this gear is something I could never put in my budget and get pushed through the commission.”
While I can appreciate the difficulty commissioners have in making budget decisions, perhaps if they truly understood the demands of law enforcement, it would make it easier for them to justify expenses.
Have they, or most people in the community had to deal with the mental and physical demands of rotating shift work? Or shoulder the daily responsibility of knowing a mistake could cause injury or worse if the job is not done proficiently?
Teton County 911 dispatchers handle calls not only for the sheriff’s department but also for the Jackson Police Department, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, Grand Teton National Park at night and, during the slow season, the National Elk Refuge, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the majority of the calls for Wyoming Highway Patrol.
As for the concern expressed by one commissioner that “at some point the sworn officers will wonder why they make the same as dispatchers,” this seems to be a lack of comprehension of the collegiality that I believe exists among all members of a well-run and efficient organization.
If that should ever be the case, I would trust that Sheriff Carr and others in the chain of command would handle it appropriately. The officers in our community, I believe, understand the value of having well-appreciated folks at the other end of the radio who will give them the proper instructions to handle the situation efficiently.
In response to another statement by the commissioner in question, “I wonder if there is a root problem with recruitment,” my opinion would be that if I were looking for a position in law enforcement I would examine the record of a community and its elected officials in regard to the level of support given to the sheriff or police chief. Could it be that this impacts the recruiting efforts in Teton County? All of the above quotes are taken from the pages of the News&Guide.
Several months ago another commissioner said that (I may be paraphrasing) “we don’t want to create a separate class of employee.” My only response to that statement is that in order to prevent or respond to an extreme emergency or natural disaster it will be not the bus drivers, clerks, waitstaff, ski instructors, etcetera, that you rely upon but mainly that “class” to which you are referring.
My compliments to commissioners for providing the money to improve the facilities in the jail. Let us hope that your task force will see fit to provide for law enforcement what is needed now and in the future.