Sparta Police Dept. wants more officers

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    SPARTA-The numbers don't lie, and Ernest Reigstad knows it. The Sparta police chief put his best face on when he went before the township council this week with a sobering message. "We're short right now," said Reigstad. "We have a lot of young guys that are working hard and making up for the extra volume that they're handling. The inevitable question is how much can you get out of someone before you have to put on some people." The addition of former resident Frank Schomp brings the total number of police officers to 33 or about 12 less than the optimal capacity Reigstad considers 45 to be. Help is on the way, the Sparta chief said, in the form of three more recruits who are completing training at the police academy. "Our service calls, ones where people want to see an officer right away but it may not be a life or death situation, maybe 10 years ago they didn't have to wait for an officer," said Reigstad. "They're waiting for an officer now." Reigstad said that Sparta residents have had to wait up to an hour or more in at least 100 requests for police assistance during the course of a year. "That's not what the people want to hear in this town," he said. "Our product is people. You have to have the people available to be on patrol with their eyes and ears and show up at people's houses when they want them and to be able to spend the time that the people want when they get there." Reigstad said these reports made to the police dispatcher were always of minor importance, usually on par with an automobile antenna broken the previous night. "None of them are serious," he said. "They're serious to the people, but for the most part, they are calls for something that happened some time ago." When it comes to calls of critical importance, some dealing with life or death, Reigstad said his police units have been averaging a 2-3 minute response time. He said it's important to remember that the statistics factor in a number of variables including volume and types of calls made into dispatchers, officers on duty, vacation schedules, sick time, and square miles within a town, among others. ‘There are calls that you get in a suburban environment that can tie up an officer even longer than what city departments deal with," said Reigstad. "We have a certain response time that we need to get to our calls. We base it on what our issues are and the level of expected service." When Reigstad joined the Sparta force 16 years ago, he said there were 31 officers on board. Since then, he said traffic volumes have doubled to coincide with the population growth from within Sparta and its surrounding communities. "We've grown conservatively," he said. "We're always looking to get the most we can from within the parameters of the budget." Reigstad said he and township officials are always looking at ways to get the most out of the present personnel. Before reinforcements can be made, he said there has to be a legitimate need that is going to benefit taxpayers. "We're a small part of everyone's tax dollar, but we have a pretty significant impact on people's lives," he said. "If I think that we need more people and I can demonstrate that we need more people, I'm going to ask for more people n but only what we need -- because of the simple reason that the taxpayers deserve the police department to be properly staffed so that we can deliver a service that they expect for the taxes they pay."