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At What Price?

November 30, 2017
by Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

For those of you who have known me over the years, you know that I've worked in a few professions along with journalism for a total of 30-plus years, the last 26 years here in Emmetsburg. But, I also put in a few hours riding a desk as a law enforcement communications operator.

I worked many years for the City of Emmetsburg and then Palo Alto County as a communications operator, or dispatcher, if you prefer, for the city's Police Department along with the Sheriff's Office and various entities in the county. There were countless hours behind a radio desk, answering the radios, phone calls and walk-in complaints until I?landed my first newspaper job. But even then, I worked some part-time hours in the Communications center, working closely with the law enforcement, fire and ambulance personnel that protect us. In 1988-89, I worked for the Iowa Department of Public Safety as a Communications Specialist at Storm Lake, working with the Iowa State Patrol, Division of Criminal Investigation, State Fire Marshal, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation and any other public safety officers and agencies.

The one thing that stuck with me through all those years was the realization that at any given hour of the day or night, there might only be one officer available to cover one county, let alone nine counties.

Stop and think about that for a second.

Let me put it in a realistic situation. Your 12-year old is home alone and hears a noise outside the house. Frightened, they call 911, as you had instructed, and then call you. A?Sheriff's Deputy is sent to investigate, but they are clear across the county. As soon as they can, they respond to your child's call for help, but in the meantime, your home is vandalized, your child is severely frightened, or possibly injured in a home invasion or worse.

Or on a snowy night, you leave work for home, and you aren't really adequately prepared for a blizzard. You run off the road in limited visibility and call for help. A Deputy responds with a snowplow operator to help you, but what if the deputy is clear across the county?

Yes, I've painted awful scenarios for a reason - as it stands today, our sheriff's office is operating at extreme limits of manpower, due to the ever-increasing workload. When civil papers have to be served into the late evening hours, or investigations into cases take tens of hours, that takes a deputy off the road, off patrol duties, and unable to act as a deterrent to crime. It leaves the public at greater risk when only one officer is available and also, it puts the lone officer at greater risk as they stop that suspicious vehicle on a lonely road in the middle of the night.

Our County Supervisors have put off requests for additional staffing for the sheriff's office once again, citing budgetary restraints as a primary reason. Yet, money is be found for ongoing expenses in the county, such as economic development efforts, mental health care and equipment purchases - all necessities for the taxpayers.

But isn't public safety also a necessity for the taxpayers?

A book I?read several years ago presented a very powerful statement about firefighters, but it also applies to our law enforcement officers. Paraphrasing here: "The air in the city may or may not be killing you. The light switch may or may not turn the lights on. The only sure thing is when you pull the alarm, the firemen will come." Change that last line to:?"When you dial 911, the officers will come."

The problem is, will the officer be able to respond in a timely fashion if he's busy elsewhere and working all alone?



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