06/19/08 — Mount Olive police at full force

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Mount Olive police at full force

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Published in News on June 19, 2008 1:48 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- For the first time in several years, the Mount Olive police force is at full force.

Also, bicycles may be used for certain patrols to save on the high cost of gasoline, now around $4 a gallon. And, for the first time, the department will purchase several Taser guns.

But filling vacancies and retaining officers have been Chief of Police Ralph Schroeder's main goals since becoming chief of police in August 2007.

The 16-officer department, which has lost a total of almost three-fourths of its staff off and during the past 11 years, became fully staffed this month.

Schroeder said he and police Administrative Clerk Barbara Brinson compiled some figures which showed that since 1977, more than 70 officers were hired.

"That's 70 officers in 11 years," Schroeder said.

Replacements often would leave after a short period of time, usually about a year or two, Schroeder said. Most sought better-paying positions.

Currently, the starting pay for a Mount Olive police officer is $26,525. But a starting pay of $27,984 has been put in the new 2008-2009 town budget that the town board is expected to approve Monday night.

"The starting pay is based on a recent pay plan study the town completed," Schroeder said.

Schroeder said he learned at a chiefs of police conference a few months ago that retaining officers is a problem statewide, especially in small towns.

"It's a different generation now," he said. "Like when I started out, I felt compelled to stay here. The salary wasn't all that great, but I stayed out of loyalty to the town and to the job.

"But this new generation of officers is a little bit different because if the money is better somewhere else, they will go. And you can't blame them when they have to pay four dollars a gallon for gas and probably will pay three dollars a gallon for gas to heat their homes this winter."

Schroeder said that now that all vacancies are filled, he hopes to obtain special training for officers and send some to special classes, such as investigations and interrogations school and arson investigation.

"I hope they get a pay raise in the new budget to give them incentive to stay with us," Schroeder said.

He said the current town board, his officers and the public have been supportive since he was named chief.

Schroeder said there are some other projects on the horizon for the police department, such as the first purchase of four Taser guns. He noted that the department has received a grant to replace the department's 9mm services pistols, which are all over 20 years old.

To save gas, the engines of police cars that are stationary for more than two minutes at the time, such as running radar or where officers may be talking to someone, must be turned off, Schroeder said.

And it's not out of the question for bicycles to be used to cut back on gas, he said.

"The bicycles could be transported on a rack on police car, then the car would stop in certain areas, such as a high-drug area, and officers would get out and patrol a block or two on the bicycle," Schroeder noted.

The gas budget for the police department for the current fiscal year is $29,000. The new budget calls for a $3,000 increase.

He said someone had suggested motorcycles for police work, but that would not be cost-effective require special training and extra funding.

Schroeder added, "But if the town manager wanted us to try them, yeah, we could."

By Nelson Bland
Special Correspondent