FOP keeps up objections to Community Watch
While Madison Township awaits a determination from the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office about whether police levy money can be spent on a Community Watch program, the Fraternal Order of Police is continuing its objections to that plan.
Jim Gilbert, president of FOP Capital City Lodge 9, urged trustees at their June 20 meeting to leave the job of policing Madison Township streets and roads "to the professionals" and let existing Block Watch programs continue to function as the "eyes and ears" of the township.
"Our police officers do support citizen input, but we have concerns and members of the Madison Township bargaining unit have concerns," said Gilbert.
At issue is using money from a 1.3-mill police levy approved last year to help fund the proposed Community Watch program. Gilbert said the levy money should be used for its intended purposes: to purchase equipment and hire new officers for the Madison Township Police Department, not for a Community Watch Program.
"The levy money (was) raised for operating the police department," Gilbert said.
He suggested the township bolster its Block Watch programs to better educate citizens about crime prevention.
Gilbert said he supported the 2011 police levy with the understanding that it was needed to keep officers on the streets. Township residents supported the levy, he said, "so officers wouldn't be laid off."
"When they approved that levy, they supported (having) a full-time police department," he said.
Gilbert said a Community Watch program would actually hinder township officers from doing their jobs in that it would create an extra burden on officers to respond to the expected increase in calls from Community Watch volunteers.
"Our officers are busy as it is. The Community Watch program (would) reduce the impact we have as a full-time, professional police department from doing our jobs," he said. "We would encourage the trustees to allow the patrolling be done by members of our bargaining unit."
Trustee Gary McDonald, a staunch advocate of the Community Watch program, said after the meeting he found it "very disheartening that the FOP lodge and police officers would be opposing a program that would assist them and help them out in their duties as police officers."
He said Gilbert's strong opposition to the proposed program is premature.
"The FOP is stating their position without having a full knowledge and understanding of how the program is going to be implemented. How can they be against it when they don't have all of the facts?" McDonald asked.
Last month, FOP attorney Robert Sauter sent trustees a letter outlining concerns about the proposed Community Watch program, which McDonald has said would be an all-volunteer group of township residents who would patrol township roads by vehicle and function as an arm of the Madison Township Police Department.
According to Sauter's letter, the FOP believes the Community Watch would be subject to collective bargaining because it would affect the terms and conditions of employment of FOP members.
McDonald said at the May trustees' meeting that the FOP's position is that it must approve a Community Watch program before it is implemented and if the township goes ahead without FOP approval, the union could take legal action.
He said June 20 the fact that the program would be an arm of the police department and administered by Police Chief Greg Ryan should allay most of Gilbert's concerns.
"The chief will have final authority as to the direction it takes and how the program will be implemented to serve the community," McDonald said. "(The FOP) should applaud any organization that would help the community and the police department in crime prevention."