by A.C. Hall
Members of the White Settlement City Council met with City Manager Linda Ryan and Police Chief Jack Ely on Monday in an attempt to address some concerns and questions council members had about the police department. Ely opened the meeting by saying the WSPD was completely transparent, and he was happy to answer any questions they had.
“We don’t do things in a vacuum over there; we don’t do anything secretly,” Ely said.
Many of the concerns expressed by council members revolved around the Street Crimes Unit of the WSPD. This small unit doesn’t perform regular patrol duties, instead focusing on doing more intensive investigations.
“Their primary purpose is to throw the dopers out of town,” Chief Ely said. “They’re a proactive group, not a reactive group.”
Council member Danny Anderson said he’s had several questions from citizens about the unit, some referencing their green uniforms. Ely said they dress this way to become known to criminals that the SCU is targeting.
“I want them to know who’s busting them,” Chief Ely said.
Council member Elzie Clements asked Ely to comment on a rumor that the SCU members set their own hours and only work when they want to. Ely said this was a false rumor, and that the SCU schedules are set.
“The only reason that they change is when I ask them to change,” Ely said of the unit’s hours and schedule.
Anderson then moved to a recent complaint he received about the SCU’s behavior at the Pony League Fast Pitch Softball tournament held a few months ago in Central Park. SCU was working at the event, patrolling the park on a small vehicle, and Anderson said citizens complained of how and where the SCU were driving while on the vehicle. He stated they were driving in circles and that they left ruts in the grass. Photos taken by a citizen at the event were shown to Ely.
Chief Ely said he was at the event and wasn’t aware anything like this was going on. He called the operation a success, saying that the tournament director thanked them for helping keep it a peaceful event. Ely voiced his feelings that in light of the job well done, the matter of driving the small vehicle around wasn’t a major issue.
“This is pretty minor,” Ely said.
Council members Anderson and Clements disagreed. Anderson spoke about issues like these damaging the reputation of the department and thus the City, while Clements voiced his strong feelings on the matter of what the SCU did at the tournament.
“I think they need to be reprimanded for it,” Clements said.
This comment lead to a disagreement between Clements and council member Mike Arnold, as the two went back and forth about who Clements should take his concerns over the need for reprimands to. The short exchange grew heated as past issues between the men were raised, and eventually Clements left the meeting.
Once things calmed down in the room, Ely addressed the concerns being raised over the SCU’s behavior at the tournament.
“I’ll look into this and get this straight,” Ely said.
A series of crime statistics were presented, showing sizable drops in many areas of local crime over the past year. Ely credited this not solely to the SCU, but did say that much of it came from their ability to work extended cases and follow up on leads that are given to them by patrol officers.
Anderson questioned why some of the surveillance and investigative work done by the SCU couldn’t be handled by higher up non-patrol officers within the WSPD. Ely spoke about how those higher up officers were busy with administrative duties. When Anderson raised the possibility of getting non-officer administrative workers, Ely said this would remove any upward mobility in the department and would cause many officers to leave since they would have no hope of getting promoted.
The idea that some of the higher ranking officers are always busy with administrative work was questioned by Anderson.
“I’d like to know exactly what their duties are,” Anderson said.
Ely said he’d welcome him to come to the police station and learn about each job there and get a first hand look at what these members of the force do with their time.
Turning back to the SCU and the improved crime statistics in the city, Ely spoke highly of the SCU and the work they’re doing.
“They’re doing a great job guys, you should be proud of them,” Ely told the council.
The other main issue raised by council members was the use of the department’s drug dog. Arnold said they previously asked that the dog be kept in the city but that this wasn’t being done. Ely disagreed with that statement.
“Make no mistake, the dog stays here,” Ely said.
He explained that once per quarter, the dog goes to an out of town postal service location to sniff suspicious dope packages. Ely explained this gives the dog a lot of training in one day, and also helps train the SCU in how to approach people who are suspected of having dope on them.
A few instances of the dog being used to help nearby municipalities and locations like Lockheed were also mentioned. When asked if the city gets reimbursed for things like that, Ely said that no, they weren’t.
“All these are costs coming out of the city’s coffers,” Arnold said.
Anderson also voiced his feelings about having the dog perform out of city tasks.
“That’s time away that our citizen taxpayers are paying for,” Anderson said.
Ely spoke about the need for being good neighbors and helping surrounding cities get rid of drug criminals, since these same criminals also sometimes do crime in White Settlement. He also assured the council that anytime a member of the WSPD is out of the city, they put duties in White Settlement as their priority and will be sure they get here quickly if they’re needed.
As discussions wound down, the need for an increase in the communication between the WSPD and City Hall was highlighted. Both sides agreed that this would be of great help.
“We all need to work together as a group,” Anderson said, saying the council appreciated the work Chief Ely does.
Mayor Jerry Burns and Council member Gene Hatcher were not present at this meeting.