PERRYVILLE — A group of Perryville residents have expressed desire to maintain the city’s current police staffing rather than switching from a full-time to part-time police chief.
More than 30 residents attended the Perryville City Council’s open forum Thursday, and the majority spoke negatively about the possibility of reducing police coverage from about 60 total hours a week to about 40.
Perryville always has had a full-time police chief and has maintained a part-time officer consistently for the past five years. But current Police Chief Charlie Parks, 62, began temporarily working part-time hours this month in order to begin collecting Social Security, which requires recipients to make less than his current $38,000 annual salary.
He requested the City Council make the change permanent, leaving him and Officer Larry Nunes both working part-time.
But residents at the forum, including Doug Davis, worry that reduced coverage will increase speeding, noise and mischief in the city back to levels when Perryville only had 40 hours of coverage from a single police chief.
“Now, if somebody comes flying through the town, I can wag my finger at them as they go by because I know we have a good police chief to back us up,” Davis said. “I think we’re safer than we were, and we don’t want to see it cut back.”
Lisa Bottom, branch manager at Farmers National Bank in Perryville, worked at the bank when it was robbed at gunpoint in 2002 and said scaling back law enforcement will provide more opportunity for criminal activity.
“If it gets advertised and it gets out there that we have a part-time cop, that’s asking for trouble,” she said.
Other residents echoed her sentiment, noting that, though Perryville has a low crime rate, keeping an officer on duty deters illegal activity.
Police salaries are a large chunk of the city’s $300,000 budget.
“We’re hanging on just to keep a face that says we’re still a city, and it gets harder and harder and harder,” former mayor Bruce Richardson said. “If you get much below that minimum of 50 or 60 hours, it’s just not worth it anymore. You’re spending way too much money just to say we’re a city.”
Councilman Harold Jones suggested the city may be able to employ three part-time officers instead of keeping a full-time chief and one part-time officer. This option could save the city money in retirement benefits — which it only pays to full-time employees — and maintain the current 60-hour coverage. But it would not result in the same $21,730 salary and benefit savings if Parks switched from full-time to part-time status.
Attendees generally responded positively to the idea of three part-time officers but made it clear that the city’s bottom line was not their main concern.
“We keep hearing talk of saving money, but I don’t’ think that should even be a question when you’re talking about security,” Troy Whatcott said.
Council members agreed, but Mayor Anne Sleet urged the residents to at least try operating with two part-time officers. The necessary ordinance changes to allow Perryville to have a part-time chief would still allow it to have a full-time chief in the future. So coverage reduction could be reversed if it proved ineffective, she said.
“Why not just give it a try and see if it works?” she said.
But attendees remained reluctant to the idea.
“What is the definition of not working?” Whatcott said. “Is it my kid getting kidnapped? Oh, it doesn’t work. The bank getting robbed? Oh, it doesn’t work?”
Council members took his point but noted that any increase in traffic or crime violations, for which they are currently gathering data to serve as a control group, would be considered failure.
Parks attended the forum but declined to comment. The council will vote on the issue Oct. 27.