Police levy information presented to council

By Kayla Hawthorne - Special to the Sentinel

MIDDLEPORT — Residents of the Village of Middleport will be voting on a levy for the police department in the November general election on Nov. 5.

During the council meeting on Monday evening, employees of the Middleport Police Department presented their reasons for the levy to council and the public.

“Our biggest problem is financing,” said Police Chief Bruce Swift. “What this levy is all about for us is the recruiting and retention of our employees.”

Swift and Lieutenant Chris Pitchford said the department is finding it difficult to compete for other agencies for cadets when Middleport cannot offer what they believe is a competitive wage.

According to Pitchford’s presentation, Middleport pays police officers $12.75 per hour, dispatchers $9.50 per hour, and corrections officers $10.00 per hour. Of the 25 to 30 employees at the police department, only six of them are full time. There are no full-time dispatchers or corrections officers, “due to increased costs of employing those positions full time”.

Pitchford said Middleport is the lowest paying agency within the area. According to Pitchford, the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office pays deputies $15.85 per hour and dispatchers make $13.65 per hour. Gallia County Sheriff’s deputies make $15.43 per hour. Gallipolis Police Officers are paid $16.09 per hour. Jackson and Wellson Police officers make $14 per hour. Vinton County Sheriff’s Deputies make $14.85 per hour. Athens Police Officers make $20 per hour. These are all starting wages, stated Pitchford.

“We have current people that have been with us for a month and will probably be leaving us very soon,” Pitchford said. “They are [Ohio Police Officer Training Academy] OPOTA certified and there’s already another agency that wants them.”

Pitchford and Swift also said that OPOTA is producing less cadets because of changes in the program, which leaves Middleport to compete for a few cadets and not being able to offer much pay.

“There are a lot of other places people can go right now to make more money than that, and when it comes down to it, guys, they’ve got to pay their bills too,” Pitchford said.

The police department is hoping that with the passage of this levy, they will be able to offer police officers, dispatchers and corrections officers more money, with competitive wages, so they can recruit more employees and keep them at the department.

According to the figures presented at the meeting, in 2018 and into 2019, Middleport Police Department has had 749 misdemeanor cases — 175 of them were drug related and 75 were property crimes. In the same time, there were 241 felony indictments — 167 were drug related and 42 were property crimes. Pitchford said the department has a 55 percent success rate in felony property crime arrests — the national average is 17.6 percent.

Middleport is also part of the Gallia-Meigs Drug Task Force. Since 2014, the task force has had 568 total cases and has seized $9,276,544.65 of drugs, according to Pitchford. Middleport Police Department has a full-time officer on the task force.

Pitchford said they can only provide one to one and a half officers per shift. The recommended standard is one officer per 1,000 residents. Middleport has approximately 2,600 residents.

Pitchford said the department is self-supporting with the jail. They have an impound lot, a K-9 unit that receives donations, forfeitures and grants. Six of the last seven cruisers were purchased without taxpayer money.

The presentation was concluded by stating, “These new officers will seek employment with a neighboring agency because of the higher wages with that agency. … This trend will continue if wages are not increased. There will likely come a time, not far from now, when MPD is unable to provide its residents with the same level of success because we will be unable to recruit and retain police officers, corrections officers, and dispatchers.”

Pitchford told the public, “We’re at risk of losing full-time positions and we’re at risk of losing a full-time department.”

By Kayla Hawthorne

Special to the Sentinel

Kayla Hawthorne is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.

Kayla Hawthorne is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.