Claims of Lawton police defunding denied by police union, city officals

Claims of Lawton police defunding denied by police union, city officials

LAWTON, Okla. (TNN) - Is the Lawton Police Department being Defunded? That’s a question people across Lawton have been asking.

Lawton’s Police Union President said the union and the membership do not think they are being defunded. Their issue is with the depletion of sworn in officers.

“In 2015, the CIP passed for public safety.. it states in there that one of the goals was to add 18 officers, to the 181," said Police Union President Clay Houseman.

Deputy City Manager Bart Hadley said that increase goal was part of the CIP.

“It went on to say that the city government, the governing body would maintain discretion at all times." Hadley.

Councilman Jay Burk, who kick started the Public Safety Tax back in 2013 said the union’s priorities shifted after that passed.

“The union came back to me and said we aren’t liking this idea. You got the pay up to 40,000, now that’s great we have people applying left and right. Now instead of hiring more officers, give it to us in bonus," said Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk.

That public safety tax, which is in effect forever, provides roughly 2.68 million dollars for salaries and bonuses, for police and fire.

Burk said if people want that increased, options are limited.

“Raise the water bill, or increase our sales tax from 9 percent," said Councilman Burk.

Which brings us to the 2021 budget, around 8 percent less than 2020.

It did eliminate 15 already vacant positions within LPD, but only eliminated 61,000 dollars from the 20 plus million dollars the city spends on police and fire.

“Those were not filled, and not in the budget. That only resulted in an overall decrease of 61-thousand dollars to PD budget," said Hadley.

Houseman said he understands the financial struggle the city was faced with.

His main concern the high crime rate, compared to cities with similar populations, like Norman, Broken Arrow and Edmond, and how much lower the average pay is.

“Our crime stats are way higher than those cities, so we probably need a little more officers. Do I want to see our wage and bonus package go up, yes. When I can tell you the average officer make 34 percent more," said Houseman.

Because the budget is a placeholder, the city the will begin to re-evaulate the sales tax in the next few months.

“If increases in wages, bonuses or benefits is what the union wants, we would be more likely to do that, but it really comes down to providing the service," said Hadley.

The only way the numbers can go up is through an academy, which was pushed back until February.

“Hopefully all of them will pass, and become full fledged officers. and they have 176 officers at that point," said Hadley.

“The officers will not be ready and be on the street and on their own until 2022,” said Houseman.

So while there are concerns on funding, officer numbers and the ability to provide public safety, all three agree the police department is not being defunded.

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