St. Marys resident Rodney Constable questioned members of St. Marys City Council about the diminishing size of the city's police department during the recent council meeting.
"A bulk of my concerns are a result of what I have seen or encountered within the past year or so. My main concern is for the safety of the citizens of St. Marys and for our city police officers," Constable said.
He described several incidents, one of which was near his residence where he observed an officer working a case, which he calculated was a 17-hour shift; for the second, he noticed an officer working several consecutive day and night shifts; and the third entailed two separate calls occurring at the same time on a weekend night in which only one officer was dispatched to each, a domestic dispute and a fight on Market Street. Constable questioned if having only one officer dispatched to a fight was a safe practice.
Constable said he has not confirmed his findings with any member of the police force out of "true professionalism," nor did he attempt to contact St. Marys Police Chief Todd Caltagarone for the same reason.
Constable added that he feels his 20 years in law enforcement, as well as working at the Elk County 911 Center and as a union rep for county employees for the past 15 years, gives him insight into the situation at hand.
Constable said that in 2009-2010, the police department included 14-15 full-time officers, two part-time officers and four sergeants. He said he believes the city is to schedule one supervisor and three officers per shift, which is now down to two officers on a weekend night. He stated the current police force consists of 12 full-time officers which must cover and patrol an area of 99 square miles and 14,000 citizens.
"I know for a fact that a job formula exists out there where you can plug in these numbers and somehow come up with a number of officers needed for proper coverage," Constable said. "I'm no genius, but it would be safe to say that the number of [appropriate] officers is not two."
Constable also questioned if the city has filled the positions left by the retirement of Sergeants Skrzypek, Lovett, and Hoh, and Patrolmen Kellogg and Gerg.
"We had more officers on the street when we were a borough and a township than we do now as a city," he said.
Constable stated he was informed the city employs one leading investigative officer. He questioned if this officer is attempting to solve the large caseload in St. Marys while on duty and patrolling, or if he is getting the time he needs to focus on the cases.
"I know I'm going to get budget cuts and raising taxes thrown at me. I also know the easiest way to save money is to cut staff, but at what expense, public and officer safety? I truly believe we need to increase the number of police officers in our city, not only for the safety of our good citizens, but to ensure our police officers have the resources and protection that they deserve," Constable said.
He added that his facts may not be completely accurate, but they are very close.
"I just don't want to be thanked and leave the room," Constable said. "I'd like to know why and who makes these decisions because I'm sure it's not anyone on the police department."
He added that he was informed that an actuarial study completed for the city in 2000-2001 found the city should have 21 officers on the force, but had 15 at that time.
Mayor Sally Geyer stated such decisions on staffing are made during budget time.
"If this is a budget issue, what do the citizens need to do to make sure these positions are filled and to get our police force built back up, not exceeding where it needs to be, but at least where it was?" Constable inquired.