Bedford PD could see significant increase in calls

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Assuming reversion goes through—currently anticipated for July 1, 2013—the Bedford Police Department could see as much as a 40 percent immediate increase in the number of calls it responds to on an annual basis.
    But there aren’t any immediate plans to add officers.
    “We’ll be watching it very carefully,” stated Bedford City Manager Charles Kolakowski, about the police department’s ability to handle the additional call load if reversion indeed does take place. “We will want to make sure we provide a good level of service. We’re very concerned about the impact on public safety.”
    Final documents on reversion are being prepared to submit to the Commission on Local Government for review. Once those documents are submitted public hearings and meetings will be held here by the commission on the proposed reversion plan.
    Last year both Bedford City Council and the Bedford County Board of Supervisors approved the voluntary reversion agreement allowing the city to revert to town status. Included in the agreement are three phases of expansion for the town, including an initial phase which would take place the date reversion occurs.
    That initial expansion would include adding businesses and residences to the town along the US 460 corridor to the east and west. The majority of the new calls would come from the area now east of Bedford.
    According to  Bedford  Police Chief Jim Day the goal of reversion will be to continue to provide to town citizens the same level of services they now enjoy as residents of the city, including in the areas of police, fire, public works and electric services.
    Currently the police department works from 5,800 to 6,200 documented incidents each year. The additional area that would become a part of the town upon reversion could add an additional 2,300 to 2,500 incidents to the call load handled by the department, Day said. That’s based on calls now handled in those areas annually by the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office and the Virginia State Police.
    The Bedford Police Department is currently staffed with 24 sworn officers, three full-time civilians and three part-time civilians. That staffing is down from the 2006 numbers of 28 sworn officers, four full-time civilians and two part-time civilians.
    “We have already stream-lined law enforcement,” Day said, noting that other departments within the city have also downsized as well over the past few years.
    The new area which would initially become part of the city includes the Wal-Mart plaza, Lowe’s and some housing units behind Applebees. Day said those areas generate a significant level of calls for law enforcement.
    “Can the same number of officers handle that additional case load and provide the same service? That’s the question we’re going to have to deal with,” Day said. “I don’t know the answer to that. I know it’s going to be more work for each individual officer. That’s the question we will have to grapple with as we approach July 1, 2013.”
    Day expects to have input into that issue as it is reviewed. The goal, he said, is to provide the same level of protection as citizens enjoy now to all of the residents of the town.
    “I don’t want to see a dip in service,” he said.
    Among the new calls the Bedford Police Department would be handling, should reversion occur, are the accidents that occur along the areas of US 460 that are added into the town limits. Currently the State Police handle those calls, but the Bedford PD handles accident calls within the city limits. That would remain the same and would expand to the new area, as well.
    “It will be a challenge for us,” Day said of handling the additional call load with the current staffing. “We have a lot of good employees. We will certainly do our very best for a seamless transition from city to town status. My hope is that the citizens won’t even notice it.”
    If it is later deemed that new staff is needed, there could be a significant lag in time until those officers could be added. Most officers hired locally haven’t been through the police academy, a 20-week class. Then, once in the department, there is a minimum of eight weeks of field training. Even then, the new officers are considered “rookies” and still have a substantial learning curve. Day said in his five years in Bedford, the department has only hired one officer who was already certified.
    Day said he knows city council wants the police department—and the city’s other departments—to maintain a high level of service. “I think every department here is going to do their best to do that,” he said.