LAWTON, Okla._ It's back to the negotiating table for the police union and the City of Lawton to a come up with a contract both sides can agree on.
The council voted last week to put this issue in front of Lawton voters, but tonight, the council reversed their decision and it's now back to the drawing board for the two sides that are still in disagreement.
The number of officers on the streets of Lawton at a given time during the day is still at the heart of the debate. The force is down 22 officers and the city manager says because officers work a 10-hour, four-day work week, there are not enough boots on the ground.
"It creates not only a public safety issue within the community (but) it also creates a police officer safety issue within their shift," says Bryan Long.
Police Chief James Smith acknowledged a shortage on his force, but says working to fill those vacancies is a better solution than putting officers on a eight-hour, five-day work week.
"We need more officers on our force," says Smith. "Our population has increased, our calls for service continue to increase, which equates to our workload."
The chief says he's happy with the council's decision to allow him to continue working out contractual kinks with the union, adding both sides need to give a little.
"We are going to sit down and see what changes that we can make together instead of butting heads," says Smith.
The city and police are butting heads in the area of overtime pay. The city allocates $500,000 a year for overtime and Long says the city is on track to spend $750,000 by year's end.
He says hiring more officers will help to solve this problem.
"The idea here is to alleviate overtime on one side, yet hire officers on the other … recruiting becomes the key here," says Long.
He believes the city needs to hire the 22 officers they are short plus an additional 20 officers. Adding 42 officers would beef up the force to 201 total officers. The city would still end up saving money than paying for overtime, says Long.
In an effort to increase their numbers, the police department has announced a police academy to be started in early March. Long says he is confident both sides can work together to solve this problem in a timely manner. Later this month, the council will appoint a negotiating committee to oversee the progress being made.