On public safety: part two

Mayoral candidates weigh in on issues involving local police, fire departments

  • 6 min to read
Mayoral candidates

As the General Election creeps closer, local citizens want to know where Democrat Abbie Smith, Republican Tyler Moore, and Libertarian Michael Virgin stand on the issues.

This week the Kokomo Perspective wraps up the public safety questionnaire sent to each candidate concerning public safety with inquiries about local ambulance services, infrastructure as it relates to public safety, and more. To read the candidates’ previous responses, check out last week’s edition of the Kokomo Perspective or visit kokomoperspective.com.

5. Do you believe the city needs to return the fire department’s ambulance to service? Why or why not?

Abbie Smith, Democrat: “We cannot ‘return’ to anything. We can only move forward.

“As we plan our future and where we go next, I will work with dispatch, local hospitals, assisted living centers, and first responders to evaluate response times for initial on-scene units and additional safety personnel arriving to ensure the public safety system we build together serves the citizens of Kokomo on what is most like the worst day of their lives.”

Tyler Moore, Republican: “There are definitely benefits to returning the Kokomo Fire Department’s ambulance service. This would not only increase the safety of our citizens but of our firefighters as well. Currently KFD personnel are often called upon to assist the EMS service on the scene of an incident to help with the eventual transport of an injured individual. This then forces a KFD apparatus to follow the ambulance to the hospital, which then takes it ‘out of service.’ This can become critical if another incident is reported and said apparatus is unable to respond. Again, as reported in the International Association of Fire Fighters 2017 report for Kokomo, ‘the benefit of supporting EMS transport within fire department operations is that fire departments are already geared towards rapid response and rapid intervention.’ Plus, having firefighters trained as EMTs only increases the level of services provided to the citizens who rely on them.”

Michael Virgin, Libertarian: “Yes. The first step is to look at the insurance billing opportunities associated with it. Billing brings in revenue, which can help offset equipment costs and justify the service. Also, for anyone who follows local dispatch chatter, it’s obvious there are times when there is not enough ambulance service coverage in the area. Another BLS ambulance would help this. Once KFD starts boosting staffing with more firefighter/medics, then the ambulance service could become an ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulance and provide a greater level of care to citizens in the area.”

6. In your opinion, does local road infrastructure need to be adjusted to better accommodate public safety vehicles? Why or why not?

Smith: “As mayor, I will ensure that all local infrastructure complies with state and national engineering and street safety standards to ensure that our citizens and first responders can travel around Kokomo safely. In order to ensure that the KFD and KPD have a voice in the conversation, I will appoint personnel from those departments to the various boards and commissions, like the Traffic Commission, that have oversight on our city's streets.”

Moore: “I believe there are certain areas throughout our community that pose a threat to our emergency safety vehicles, which includes those from our local hospitals as well. My plan is to meet with representatives of each of the local first responder departments and organizations to identify those trouble areas in the city and find the best and most cost-effective ways to address them. This will not only allow for an increase in response times for our first responders but can improve the safety of citizens who may feel ‘trapped’ while driving in areas where emergency vehicles are en route. When seconds count, we shouldn’t create additional challenges or inconveniences for our first responders and citizens.”

Virgin: “There are a few areas that make for some tight turns. Those trucks are big and heavy to drive, so any road designs in the city should make sure there is ample room for public safety vehicles to properly maneuver. There are a few trouble spots with the road diets where cars can’t get over enough to let the public safety vehicle through. This is a flawed, poor design.”

7. How can KPD better its community policing practices?

Smith: “The public safety field has changed significantly over the last 15 years. If we are serious about ensuring public safety for the citizens of Kokomo, we need to invest in leadership training, talent attraction, and retention. We need to ensure an equitable hiring process.

“We need to foster an authentic connection between officers and our community. We need to genuinely value the work our officers do every day by holding ourselves accountable for our community role as citizens.

“Better community policing isn’t possible until we increase the number of sworn officers on the force so that we can lower the percentage of time spent in response to calls for service.”

Moore: “The Kokomo Police Department can better its policing practices – with the support of the mayor and city administration—by creating a greater presence within the community. This can first be achieved by, again, increasing staffing numbers in order to increase the officers’ availability and improve their visibility throughout the community. This would better the relations between the KPD and our citizens and serve as a deterrent for criminal activity throughout the city. Also, this would allow our officers to be more proactive in many situations versus reactive.”

Virgin: “With increased staffing we can do more speed traps in residential areas known for speeding. We can also do more community events and have officers make more of a consistent appearance in local neighborhoods. Community events focused on youth outreach seem to be really effective in showing the kids that the police are not the enemy, just normal people doing a tough job. As a city we can always continue to be pro-police and to make sure that between neighborhood watch groups and a properly staffed police department. We as a whole can remain vigilant and deter local crime.”

8. What qualities would you seek in your ideal pick for police chief?

Smith: “I’m looking for a partner in a chief, a partner to me as mayor, to citizens, and to union leadership.

I expect a chief to know how to do the job – count on them to have the expertise needed to effectively provide comprehensive public safety for the people of Kokomo.”

“I expect a chief to be current with best practices – more importantly, always looking ahead to new approaches, new training, new equipment.

“I expect a chief to build a department of leaders who, when my daughter has to call 911, and they arrive on scene in her worst moment, have the ability and authority to make the split-second decisions necessary to keep her safe… with confidence.

“I want a chief who is respected by their peers, one who knows their employees, their families, what they need to do their jobs, and one who puts the safety of their employees first.”

Moore: “The qualities I would seek in an ‘ideal pick’ for police chief would be the same I would use for my selection for fire chief as well. I plan on selecting those individuals who lead by example, who have spent time within the ranks, who have a certain level of respect from their peers and who are confident in their own abilities. I would expect each of these individuals to be directly involved in daily activity within each department and always available and present when needed by staff. Both individuals should be well-spoken because they will be expected and encouraged to issue press releases to help keep the community advised of issues. I will also rely upon these individuals to advise as to the best way they feel their respective departments should be run and then execute that plan. However, the selection process will not be made on my own. I will seek the input of certain individuals within the public safety arena—both current and retired—to assist in assessing who will be an ‘ideal pick’ for both positions of leadership.”

Virgin: “There are changes that need implemented, and the days of a highly-politicized police department are coming to an end. We need someone who is respected in the community and cares for the community but at the same time is tough enough to get the job done. For me Kevin Summers fits the bill. I feel he truly cares about the community and that he wants to see KPD do well.

“With his leadership and a merit-based system put in play, we can find out what KPD needs and work with the council to give the department what it needs to do their job. The current administration micro-manages too much, and this holds back the departments. For me, I want to work with the chiefs and ultimately give them the room they need to do what they need to do.”

9. Generally speaking, are there any unique issues affecting local public safety you haven’t seen addressed, and how would you tackle these issues?

Smith: “Mental health care, post-traumatic stress, and cancer prevention for first responders continues to be left out of the public safety conversation.

“Prioritizing access to mental health care should be part of any comprehensive public safety plan. First responders should be able to go home to their families without bringing home the baggage that comes with being exposed to repeated trauma. Just because they can handle it, doesn’t mean they should have to. Not only do they deserve to be safe for their families, they deserve to be whole for their families.

“Firefighter cancer rates are almost 70 percent, as opposed to 22 percent of the general population. Aside from prevention and protection in terms of equipment there’s not a lot I can directly do as mayor. But I can advocate with the state on workers’ compensation policies.”

Moore: “There are no unique issues affecting our local public safety. Violent crimes, drug use and addiction, mental health issues, homelessness, and poverty are all issue we as a community must continue to face on a daily basis—and these issues are not specific to Kokomo. Therefore, city government must provide the best available staffing and resources to its police and fire departments possible, while partnering with other private organizations, hospitals, schools, religious institutions, and agencies that provide the necessary services folks so desperately need. We are blessed in Kokomo to have an incredible network of resources available to individuals in need, so publicly and privately we need to continue to work together to support them and to support our first responders.”

Virgin: “From the fire perspective, there needs to be a movement towards consistent four-person engine crews. Also, 70 to 80 percent off all emergency runs are EMS-related, so it makes sense for any fire department to be advanced in its medical training. Although the hospitals handle the primary ALS ambulance service, the different agencies can start training more together. KFD can work towards a long-term goal of having 10 to 25 percent of their department at the paramedic level.”