Paul Byer, who’s been chief for the past two years, said he was blindsided Tuesday morning when he was told April 11 would be his last day with the department
None of this was brought to the attention of the department heads,” Byer told the News-Leader. “There was a council meeting Monday night and I was called in Tuesday morning.”
Byer said he’s more concerned about the safety of people in Pleasant Hope than losing his job.
Without a police chief, the department will be left with one full-time patrol officer and a D.A.R.E. officer who will spend the majority of his time at the school, according to Byer.
“Everything will fall on the patrol officer,” Byer said. “The response won’t be there. The department — if it survives this — will be reactive instead of proactive. The public’s safety is at risk in Pleasant Hope.”
Mayor John Homer disagreed.
Losing the chief will not compromise public safety because we’ll still have the sheriff’s department to rely on,” said Homer, mayor for almost a year.
He said if the police can’t get to a call, the Polk County Sheriff’s Department will handle it.
Although the sheriff’s department has helped with calls in the past, Byer said they’ll need to be called a lot more. And they might not be able to respond right away.
Former Mayor Pat Murphy said, “In years past, when we didn’t have a police officer, the sheriff’s department would take a long time to respond. Sometimes it would be an hour or more, depending on the situation.”
Murphy was a member of the Board of Aldermen for eight years and mayor for two more before he was defeated in the April 2007 election for mayor. He said the council’s move to cut the police chief’s position was a “stupid decision” and one that will “absolutely” compromise the public’s safety.
He called Byer the best police officer the town’s ever had.
“He organized the (police) department, started up the Municipal Court — which is bringing in revenue — and has done an excellent job of being police chief,” said Murphy, who was Homer’s predecessor. “I’ve known a lot of police officers and he’s the best one I’ve ever known.”
Murphy said even though Pleasant Hope has a small population of 600 people, it can’t do without a police chief. “Not with the situation today with drugs and what not.”
Byer, who’s been involved in law enforcement for more than 32 years, said the Pleasant Hope Police Department was is in “complete disarray” when he arrived two years ago.
The chief said he’s worked hard to turn the department around. Through grants, he’s been able to upgrade the department’s communication system, get new equipment for officers, initiate the D.A.R.E. program and start the Municipal Court.
“… Now all that stuff is going to be jeopardized,” he said.
Homer counteracted, saying police chief is “just a title.”
“He’s a police officer just like the others,” the mayor said. “His job was to be on the streets like our other police officers. All three were basically equal, although their pay scale was a little different.”
Homer contends that difference in pay scale is why Byer got the boot.
“He was the highest paid on the police force,” Homer said. “It’s an expense we just have to cut … that’s all there is to it. I want to make it perfectly clear the police chief is not being laid off because of something he did or didn’t do.”
The mayor said he did not know what Byer’s salary was “off the top of his head.” He said he also didn’t know what the city’s operating budget was — or the total amount of budget cuts — because he “wasn’t in the office at the moment.”
Byer said his annual salary was $25,500, without medical benefits. The other patrol officer earns $23,500, with medical benefits, Byer said.
Although he didn’t have specific figures, Homer said the budget cuts will affect more than the police chief.
City employees, including police, will no longer have cell phones. Salaries and hours of other city employees will also be reduced, according to Homer.
Byer hopes there’s a good public turnout at the next City Council meeting on March 17. “I hope the community will rally for public safety.”
Murphy said although it’s unlikely, the council could make changes to the budget cuts. “If they get enough heat they might change their minds …. I’ve seen a lot of stupid decisions, and this is one of them.”
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