It seems every time I turn around, there’s one group or another upset with their local police department.
I know there are one or two -- maybe more -- police chiefs out there who think I’m solely responsible for their problems. I’m not. I have no stake in those squabbles.
When the issues involving their department merit news coverage, I present them in a fair way and try to put the dispute in perspective for readers.
There have been ruffled feathers between the Hessmer mayor/council and the police chief for several years. In the past, it focused on budget issues.
The dispute got more heated in the past year, culminating in council threats to seek voter approval to do away with the elected office of police chief and make it an appointed position.
The Town Council adopted an ordinance on April 1 giving it authority to call an election for the voters to decide the issue. The council opted not to proceed with putting the proposition on the Nov. 16 ballot. The deadline for calling the election was Sept. 23.
The council could revisit the issue later this year, in early 2020 or decide to leave the issue alone.
The council members cut the Police Department budget significantly -- they said because of a dramatic drop in revenue from tickets -- so that there is only enough to pay the police chief’s salary. Since he is an elected official, they couldn’t cut his salary.
The elected officials even argued over who should’ve acquired the radar to enable the police chief to write speeding tickets to address the budget shortfall.
The council purchased one because the aldermen said they never heard from the chief on whether he was going to buy one. The chief obtained two that were donated to the department but didn’t let the mayor and council know about the donations. Then the chief got riled because he said the council had no right to buy equipment for his department without telling him first.
There have been other disputes between the two camps, but maybe things will quieten down now that a district judge has apparently settled the cell phone bill issue and the elected vs. appointed police chief issue is off the front burner.
Earlier this year, a citizens group voiced concern over the Marksville mayor’s “temporary” appointment of an assistant police chief.
The mayor has authority to make temporary appointments without City Council approval for 90 days. He can apparently renew that temporary appointment indefinitely.
The complaint was that the position should be advertised for applicants and filled under policies for hiring/appointing high-ranking police officials.
More recently, the mayor and City Council advised the Police Department and the Fire Department to eliminate overtime because salary costs were running over budget.
There have been some conflicts in Bunkie between some City Council members and the police chief. There have also been a few citizen complaints leveled against the police department.
A former assistant police chief who resigned after less than a year in the position has filed an EEOC complaint alleging discrimination against him in the Police Department.
As I’m writing this column, I can’t recall any conflicts in the other law enforcement agencies. If there were any, I’ll probably think of them later. I believe the ones mentioned here are the major disputes.
There will always be complaints against a police department because of the nature of its role in the community.
There will be those who are upset because they were ticketed or arrested for something they contend others get away with. Others may complain that police are “looking the other way” to avoid upsetting powerful politicians.
If a town’s police officers write speeding tickets, they’re “running a speed trap.” If the police officers don’t write enough, they’re “getting paid for doing nothing” or "turning Main Street into a speedway."
There is no manual out there to tell the municipal police department where the happy medium between “speed trap” and “speedway” lies.
Money issues are the leading cause of marital problems. They are also the leading cause of problems between departments headed by elected officials.
The mayor is the chief administrator of a municipality. The council controls the purse strings. When you add an elected police chief into that mix, things can get complicated.
The police chief is responsible for running his department within the approved budget for that year. However, the town council allocates the amount to operate that department.
It is tailor-made for friction. Friction causes heat. Heat can lead to fire and fire, if not properly controlled, is a destroyer.
Yet, fire is also used to purify metals and clear away deadwood and underbrush to produce a stronger forest.
These conflicts --like fire -- are not necessarily bad. It just depends on how the officials and their communities handle them.