Eureka Springs police chief says department needs more dispatchers

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Eureka Springs Police Department has quite a few open positions at the moment.

On Monday night, police chief Thomas Achord told the Eureka Springs City Council that the department has experienced a loss of manpower over the past year, with several open dispatcher positions and one open officer position.

“The police department has been faced with some unique problems this year,” Achord said. “Overall, we’re doing well. That hasn’t affected the safety of the community so much as it has the personal life of the folks that have stepped up to the plate.”

Achord thanked everyone in the department for helping out, saying many of them are working more hours than ever.

“I have to commend everybody at the department, dispatchers and officers, for filling the void that has occurred,” Achord said. “We’ve lost 60 percent of our dispatch force. We are having trouble staying open 24 hours a day.”

His employees have offered to work whenever needed, Achord said, but he doesn’t want to overwork them.

“I’m not letting them work seven days a week, 12 hours a day,” he said.

Though the department is down one officer, Achord said, he’s focusing on filling the dispatcher positions. It takes a special type of person to be a dispatcher, he said.

“It’s probably the single most important position at the department. They’re the first line of contact the public has,” Achord said. “Their level of professionalism and the skill set they have to have is so diverse, so expanse … we can’t knee-jerk and put people in the seat and say, ‘Good luck.’”

He added, “We’re being choosy. Even though we’re in a desperate situation, we’re not going to just grab the first person off the street.”

He’s interviewed a few people, Achord said, with mixed results. He described how the interviews have gone, saying some applicants don’t fit the bill and those who do have turned down the position.

“We’re trying to compete with a higher market, so to speak,” Achord said.

Eureka Springs dispatchers make around $12 an hour, he said, while other cities pay between $15 and $20 an hour.

“That’s the cog all the gears turn around. That’s probably our biggest issue now,” Achord said. “As a department, everybody stepped up. I want to commend everybody at that department. The entire staff has just absolutely taken the brunt of it and stepped up.”

Achord presented some of the department’s statistics this year, saying officers have taken more than 1,300 calls for service, arrested 232 people and issued 50-55 noise violations.

“Everybody at the department is staying with the course for keeping the streets and the community safe,” Achord said.

Alderwoman Kristi Kendrick said the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office has experienced some problems transitioning into a new space at the detention center, asking Achord if that has affected the Eureka Springs Police Department at all. The department has been relying on the sheriff’s office to help with dispatch, Achord said, but the big problem is how officers communicate with CCSO’s dispatchers. When officers are downtown, Achord said, they can’t reach CCSO dispatchers through their portable devices.

“Our portables and our mobiles will not reach their center when we’re downtown,” Achord said. “When we’re on the highway, it’s fine, but not downtown. What they’ll usually do is get on their cell phone and call the dispatcher.”

Once the department is fully staffed again, Achord said, these problems should disappear.

“Eureka Springs has always been a self-sustained department. We have a holding facility,” Achord said. “We can basically take care of our own, and we want to get back to that. It’s the most efficient way to handle it for our community.”

Eureka Springs dispatchers know everything about the town, Achord said, and that’s by design.

“They know where Elk Street is. They know all the little nuances of Eureka Springs,” Achord said. “Our people live here, grew up here. We put our dispatchers in our cars and drive them around so they can physically see where all our little places are.”

Alderman Terry McClung asked Achord if the department has had any problems with transient visitors to town, and Achord said that’s under control.

“I don’t think it’s a worse problem than we’ve seen in years past. The cycle we see … during our warmer months, folks will transient into town,” Achord said. “They can sleep in common areas, alleys, anywhere they can get to. Then, usually, when winter gets here, they tend to disappear.”

Alderman David Mitchell addressed the staffing problems at the department, asking Achord if the city is offering salaries on par with other cities. The department is on par with Carroll County, Achord said, but is below larger departments. In fact, Achord said, the department lost some dispatchers to larger departments offering a higher salary.

“It seems it would behoove you to maybe talk to the mayor or the finance person and then come back to us to see about doing a wage and salary increase to help attract the type of people you should have,” Mitchell said.

“I agree 100 percent, but we know the city is in a financial …it’s not my place to critique or judge the city’s financial situation,” Achord said. “I’m going to do my part as a department head and pinch every penny I can.”

Mitchell said it’s the council’s fault the department can’t bring in more qualified dispatchers.

“It’s quite possible the wage and salary adjustment needs to be made so you can attract the right kind of people,” Mitchell said. “I think the burden you’re facing right now falls on the council.”

“Thank you,” Achord said. “That’s music to my ears.”

At the end of the meeting, Mitchell placed a discussion of the police department’s salary and wages on the next meeting’s agenda.

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