Lawton, Ok_A meeting of the minds, Wednesday, at Lawton City Hall over ways to improve public safety.
After months of council chatter, the Police and Fire Chiefs came forward in need of help. They told the council that they're dealing with dilapidated facilities and staffing needs.
Those who have been following the council meetings in recent weeks know that they've been talking about the possibilities of a public safety tax or yet another charge added to the utility bill to come up with funding for public safety. However, that was not in the spotlight, Wednesday. This meeting was simply a chance for the chiefs to express their needs.
From off the chart homicides to nationwide scandals happening close to home, City officials are feeling the heat to ramp up safety measures. "We need community input, we need community awareness, we need a tremendous amount of community involvement," said Lawton Mayor Fred Fitch.
Police Chief James Smith said for police that will come in the form of 40 new officers. But it's not just about putting more boots on the street. Smith wants to see funding for community outreach for more proactive prevention programs. It's something that Mayor Fitch wholeheartedly believes in.
"Putting boots on the street is not the final answer there's going to have to be consultants involved, there are communities around the country that study the crime situation and it's not a matter of being reactive it's about being proactive towards the crime, said Fitch.
However, some council members did not agree. Keith Jackson believes we need to utilize resources in town rather than bringing it outside consultants. "I just can't see paying for an outside study. I know what our problem is here in Lawton, like every community in the United States it's overwhelming."
Fire Chief Dewayne Burk made an equally strong plea for additional help. He said their services go beyond just putting out fires. "We literally do everything that the community calls us for. We don't turn down a call when they call us. We take pride in being able to say that," Burk said.
Three of the seven fire stations are running at below staffing capacity and have not received a new fire truck since 2008. That plus a need for another station has their men and women stretched thin.
After Wednesday's meeting, funding still remains the big issue to tackle. They spent most of the meeting avoiding the topic, but finally Councilman Burk forced a conversation.
The idea of a public safety tax seemed to be the most popular way to bring in the additional funding for the needs. But the council also charged each chief to look at their departments and determine if they are structured in the most financially efficient way, in an effort to cut costs for the time being.
Also mentioned was a multi-purpose public safety facility that would house police, fire, a jail and municipal offices. It would be a multi-million dollar facility, but officials said it could save money down the line.