Commonwealth Journal

January 18, 2014

Council reviews SPD activity

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — City officials were able to see numbers detailing the thousands of calls Somerset Police Department responds to on a yearly basis, thanks to a 10-year activity report presented this week in Somerset City Council.

“This gives you a little bit of an idea where we’re coming from, where we’re going, and what’s going on,” said Somerset Police Chief Doug Nelson on Monday.

Nelson said the last 10-year study was carried out in 2001 — which amounts to a 12-year gap.

“We deal and we work with the community a lot,” said Nelson.

Nelson noted that the department abides by a policy in which officers often stay with their cases through the legal process. Nelson said an officer can take a call, write up a case report, present that report to the grand jury, and move forward from there.

 “He can do every bit of it,” said Nelson. “We expect our officers to work cases and present them.”

Nelson, before presenting the numbers to city councilors, also noted that the department worked six officers down in 2013. That made a difference in how many gallon of gas the department used, according to numbers presented in the report.

Officers used a total of 50,095 gallons of gasoline in 2009. In 2010, officers used 50,744 gallons. That number went up to 52,295 gallons in 2011, before decreasing significantly to 45,364 in 2012 and 43,927 in 2013.

“If you’ve not got six people driving, you’re not using that much fuel,” said Nelson, who noted the department normally budgets for 50,000 gallons of gas yearly.

Nelson walked the councilors through the total calls for service the department had received between 2003 and 2013, which totaled 271,302. Out of that, 26,767 calls of service were made in 2013. That’s slightly lower than calls for service made in 2012, with 27,828 28,523 calls for service were made in 2011.

Nelson noted that calls for service are also generated through traffic stops.

Nelson during his presentation pointed out the number of parking tickets generated by SPD that were made in 2013 compared to 10 years earlier. Only 974 parking tickets were written in 2013, compared to 3,084 that were written in 2003.

 “We have fell off one that in 2013 with only 974,” said Nelson. “My thought process has changed a little bit on parking.”

Nelson said his ideology on parking tickets has evolved to one in which he prefers his officers write warning tickets to motorists. But he emphasized that those who park in handicapped spots without the proper tags will always be ticketed.

“You won’t get a break on that,” said Nelson.

Nelson said the decision to move away from strict parking enforcement came as a result of fewer officers and man hours. He also said he felt it wasn’t practical to cost “hard-working” people money simply because they parked in the wrong space.

“We have to be reasonable with our parking tickets,” said Nelson. “We’ve got to look at what’s important to us and what we want to do.”

Councilor Jim Rutherford said times have changed.

“30 years ago, it was a big deal, because the downtown area was different 30 years ago ... hopefully with our revitalization, parking could become a bigger issue later on,” said Rutherford, who called parking enforcement an “unforgiving” job. “I appreciate this turn-around.”

According to numbers presented by Nelson, SPD recorded 2,584 moving violations in 2013. Moving violations are charges such as reckless driving and speeding. Officers handed out 1,049 moving violation citations in 2003.

 “Huge, huge numbers and we work a lot of traffic,” said Nelson.

Although SPD continues to operate several officers down — three are now in academy and the department has yet to hire three others — the higher numbers can partly be connected to the city’s annexation of several major roadways, which happened in 2012. The city moved to expand outward on roadways such as Ky. 39, West Ky. 80, East Ky. 80 and Ky. 914. Those roads are heavily traveled, and resulted in a lot more work and territory coverage for officers starting in 2012.

Nelson said the city worked several fatal accidents in a row after the annexation, putting to an end a long streak without such serious incidents.

The department in 2013 worked 1,294 accidents — many of which were in the annexed areas, according to Nelson. That’s compared to 1,158 accidents in 2012, 1,127 accidents in 2011, and 1,113 accidents in 2012.

But those yearly numbers are still lower than accidents worked by SPD in 2003, at 1,305.

Nelson also pointed out that SPD officers made 3,506 arrests in 2013, a much higher number than the 1,501 arrests made in 2003.

 “These guys are out here putting criminals in jail,” said Nelson.

Nelson said the department made 259 DUI arrests in 2013, compared to 165 arrests made in 2005. Nelson said DUI arrests were included in moving violation reports in 2003 and 2004, which made it impossible to separate the DUI arrests from the rest of the 2003 and 2004 citations.

217 DUI arrests were made in 2006, and 234 DUI arrests were made in 2007. In 2008, SPD officers made 284 arrests, which increased to a peak of 348 arrests in 2009.

DUI arrest numbers fell in 2010, with 304 arrests made. 232 DUI arrests were made in 2011, which  decreased significantly to 187 DUI arrests in 2012.

2013, with its 259 DUI arrests, was the first full year since Somerset went “wet” in 2012. Nelson said the department has overtime available for DUI enforcement, and he said SPD worked several “saturation” details last year, which included road blocks.

“We wanted to get the message out,” said Nelson.

Rutherford pointed out that the amount of manpower and hours available can make a difference in DUI arrest numbers.

“If you’re short handed and you’re busy you don’t have the officers to do that,” said Rutherford.

The department’s warning citations came in much lower in 2012 and 2013 than in years past, with 1,238 in 2012 and 1,230 in 2013. That’s down from a peak of 7,066 warnings written in 2009.

“Some of our officers were trying to make a living by giving warning tickets,” said Nelson. “There’s times when people need a warning ticket, but your officers cannot live by it.”

According to the report, SPD officers responded to 21,431 business alarm calls and only 2,268 residential alarm calls between 2003 and 2013. SPD responded to 8,197 domestic calls in the 10-year period, and 3,582 requests for funeral escorts.

Officers also responded to 3,759 shoplifting calls and 12,292 calls about suspicious subjects or vehicles.

And Nelson emphasized the number of calls made by motorists who locked their keys in their cars. Over the 10-year period, the department’s safety officers responded to a whopping 30,373 reports of keys locked in vehicles.

Nelson pointed out the department saved people a total of $1.5 million over the 10-year period by helping them get in their cars without a base $50 fee.

“I cannot say enough for my safety officers and what they do in the community,” said Nelson.

In other news from Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting:

• The council voted to purchase a new ambulance for Somerset-Pulaski County EMS for $136,963. The city received only one bid during the open bidding process from Taylor Made Ambulance. Even though officials had been hoping to buy an ambulance for $110,000 or less, they decided to move forward with the purchase.

• Rutherford personally thanked the city’s wastewater department for helping his parents with an issue at their home.  

• The council heard the first reading of Ordinance 14-01, which involves excavation, erosion, filling and sediment control. The ordinance is a re-worked, combined version of several ordinances dating back to the 1960s and 1970s.

“We’ve been having difficulty enforcing all of the in-fill ordinances and erosion,” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler.