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Local police union argues stalled contract talks are to blame for issues in recruitment, fewer officers to respond to 911 calls

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 8:08 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The local police union is arguing stalled contract talks with the City have resulted in recruitment issues and fewer officers available to respond to 911 calls.

The local Republican Party Chair also says the wait times have become unacceptable.

The City and the Police Benevolent Association of the Big Bend have been at an impasse, leaving Tallahassee Police Department officers working without a contract.

The old one expired in October.

The PBA is arguing that the lack of contract is, in effect, lack of support from the City for police.

The president of the local chapter, Richard Murphy, believes that perception could drive away new recruits.

He says they’re sorely needed at the department.

“What’s happening is, we don’t have enough officers on the road right now, and a contract would help us get more recruits and retain people so we could get to these 911 and priority calls faster,” Murphy said.

The Leon County Republican Party Chair, Evan Power, is also getting involved.

“The call time for 911 calls has gotten out of control, with a 37 minute wait time on average, which is unacceptable. there’s only one police officer north of I-10 at night, which is concerning,” Power said.

He called on the City Manager to proactively approach the PBA about resuming talks.

The PBA’s new website, part of a public relations campaign about the contract, says the average wait time for 911 calls in Tallahassee is 37 minutes.

A public records request to TPD showed numbers for solely priority one calls, or those with an immediate threat of harm.

TPD’s records show that in January, the average time was just over 6 minutes. In February, it was just under 9 minutes.

Murphy says the lack of a contract has far-reaching effects.

“One of the big things about having a contract; it shows that there is support for the police department from City leaders, which would attract more officers here, and maybe convince officers that were going to leave to stay,” he argued.

Deputy Chief Tonja Smith, in charge of recruitment, says the greatest issue facing TPD recruitment is a nationwide negative narrative.

Smith also says current efforts including social media posts, billboards, and ads are doing well.

“We have 15 special units that they can get into, so when you start out as a police officer, just knowing you have different sections that you can go to, I think that’s a big draw,” Smith said.

During Wednesday’s budget workshop, City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow questioned whether federal funding could be used to work on recruitment issues.

City Manager Reese Goad explained that the City has already put money into recruiting but said he would look at whether funds needed to be replenished.

The City authorized $250,000 dollars for recruiting in 2020. Some of that money is being used as an $11,000 signing bonus for new hires from other agencies. Hires that are new to policing are also eligible to receive a $1,000 bonus.

“And I can tell you, it’s working. the last round of new recruits, we had 8 hires; three of those were from other agencies. And I’m not sure I’ve seen that,” said City Manager Reese Goad.

In conversations with the City today, a spokesperson told WCTV the local government are hoping for a successful outcome in reaching an agreement, “as was done with sergeants and lieutenants.”

The City and the PBA will be coming together at the end of the month in arbitration with a special magistrate.

We will keep you updated.

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