How to fund a proposed Community Watch Program in Madison Township became a topic of debate during the trustees' May 16 meeting.

How to fund a proposed Community Watch Program in Madison Township became a topic of debate during the trustees' May 16 meeting.

Trustee Gary McDonald provided an update about the status of the program, which he said is still in the planning stages.

The program, if enacted, would utilize township funds to help support an all-volunteer staff of township residents who would be responsible for patrolling township roads by vehicle and function as an arm of the Madison Township Police Department.

McDonald said the primary role of program participants would be to detect and prevent crime by serving solely in an observational role, what McDonald termed "an extra set of eyes and ears."

The viability of paying for the program through the use of funds garnered from the 2011 police levy, in which township residents approved a 1.3-mill replacement levy for new vehicles and additional officers, was questioned by at least two township residents.

McDonald said the program would be funded by police levy money if approved by the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office.

Otherwise, appropriations would come out of the township's general fund.

Township resident Marty Baker said there was a better way to administer the program "rather than putting out more money."

She suggested more people participate in the township's blockwatch programs that are already in place.

McDonald said the Community Watch program would be a separate entity from the blockwatch program with a different mission and a unique set of functions.

"I understand that, but the two are almost the same," Baker said.

McDonald said he has seen blockwatch programs in the township fade out over time because of lack of community interest.

"I'm trying to get more people involved by having something affiliated with our police (department)," McDonald said.

According to McDonald, the glaring difference between the proposed Community Watch Program and a Blockwatch program is that the former is mobile and has substantial training and will also function as an effective public relations tool for both the township and the police department.

Officer Joanne Cunningham of the Columbus Division of Police Department, liaison for the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, said the levy money should be used "for more police officers" rather than for the Community Watch program.

McDonald said the amount of money needed to get the program off the ground won't be substantial given the all-volunteer status of its participants.

"The budget is tight, but the amount of money utilized for this is less than $1,000 just to organize it and start it up," said McDonald.

Township resident Sandy Rose, who said she is resident of the Blacklick Estates Blockwatch Program, also weighed in against using levy money.

"We passed the levy to get more officers so they can be out on the street," Rose said.

"That's why I voted for the levy. We need more police officers," she said.

McDonald said the FOP, through its attorney Robert Sauter, sent a letter May 14 to Madison Township officials stating concerns about implementation of the Community Watch program.

The FOP, as the exclusive bargaining representative for sergeants and police officers employed by the Madison Township Police Department, said the specifics of the Community Watch program are subject to bargaining because the program would affect the terms and conditions of employment of its members.

McDonald said it is the FOP's position that the Community Watch program must first be approved by the FOP and that if the township goes ahead and implements the program without FOP approval, the FOP could take legal action.

McDonald said he was surprised by the tone of the letter, given that he views the Community Watch program as an effective crime-fighting tool that would be utilized to assist officers in the performance of their duties.

"I don't feel the FOP has standing in this because the Community Watch program is for the benefit and safety of our officers and our community," McDonald said.

"It will procure additional information for our police officers," he said.

Trustee Ed Dildine said the Community Watch program is a work in progress and it will take time to sort through the details.

"It is in its early stages," Dildine said.

"This is not going to happen tomorrow. There are a lot of people for it and a lot of people against it, but nothing is written in stone."

McDonald said debate will continue as overall program logistics such as funding and training are ironed out.

He said he would encourage more township residents participate in future discussions about the program at the next Board of Trustees meeting June 20.