Board talks public safety

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Blytheville Police and Fire Committee held their rescheduled monthly meeting Monday evening to discuss issues ranging from tornado siren coverage, police department recruitment and fire prevention.

Blytheville Police Chief Ross Thompson warned that the city has a dire need for more police officers. Of the budgeted 39 police officers (not just patrol officers) there are only 35 total police officers on staff. One certified officer has committed to the department but won’t be available until May or June. Although the department is staffed with 35 officers, two are in field training status, two are attending Basic Academy and three are on family medical leave.

Thompson added, “it’s hard to keep veteran officers on the police force.”

Approximately 30 applications were collected over a 6-month period. 12 of the 30 applicants were immediately disqualified due to criminal records. Nine applicants were contacted to begin the process and only two responded. Other projected goals for the police department include upgrading the department’s body armor and handguns, which have been in use for 10 years.

The commitee also expressed concern regarding the repair and replacement of tornado sirens located throughout the city of Blytheville.

Both Blytheville Fire Chief Mike Carney and Thompson indicated that they have been “looking into the issue for quite some time.” The problems with the sirens are that only three out of the seven within the city limits are rotating. They also can’t be heard loud enough due to the sirens not filling up with enough pressure.

“Depending on where you live in town, most citizens won’t experience the full impact of the decibels;” Carney said.

The current siren system has been in place since 1977, serving the community of Blytheville for 40 years.

Carney also said they were considering several different companies for possible bids to provide and install the equipment, which include Federal, Whelen and a few other companies. Ultimately, the lack of funding has placed a great strain on proceeding with the replacement of the sirens. Each siren costs approximately $23,000 bringing the total costs to replace all 7 sirens and to add an additional siren on the campus of Arkansas Northeastern College would total more than $180,000.

Although costly, Thompson indicated, “There is a sense of urgency to address the alarming issues at hand.”

Carney agreed. “Even though there are issues with the siren coverage, we work diligently to assure the safety of our citizens when there is an imminent or immediate threat to the city of Blytheville,” Thompson said. “ Our citizens are our number one priority, so we have officers both uniformed and off duty that will patrol the streets with their lights and sirens engaged to warn our citizens to take the necessary precautions to stay safe.”

Carney informed the commitee that the work at Station 1 has been completed and that the outcome of the project was satisfactory.

He also handed out a report that stated the departmental call volume for the first quarter showed a slight increase from last year from 92 calls in 2016 to 140 calls in 2017. For both time periods, the total number for structure fires remained at 19.

It was also announced that beginning April 29, the fire department will be working with local representatives from the American Red Cross for a Smoke Detector Installation and Fire Safety Campaign. Initially they will begin on Holly, Hearn and Chickasawba and then focus on both sides of 10th Street.

Thompson added that [American Red Cross needs more support] because, "They need more volunteers because they never turn anyone away based on race, gender, or demographic…they need more blood drives…as well as minority participation…they are here for a great cause.” The fire department has also recently completed an onsite tour at the Great River Medical Center to update pre-plans to prepare in case of any future fires at the facility.

rvalen@blythevillecourier.com