The City of Piedmont has issued a press release confirming the City Council’s united support in favor of eliminating the Piedmont Police Department and utilizing the countywide law enforcement provided by the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office.
“This is actually supported by every single member of the council including myself,” Mayor Thomerson said of the proposed change to Piedmont law enforcement.
Although the council has been working with the Sheriff’s office for the last couple months to explore this option, the proposed change comes as a surprise to most Piedmont residents. Councilman Charles Coffman said the council had hoped to continue analyzing this possibility before bringing it to the public’s attention by holding a special session in the middle part of September.
“It was not our intention to make it a surprise for anyone,” Coffman said. “We had a plan to discuss it further but somehow it got out.”
During the last city council meeting, the Piedmont city council met in executive session to discuss police contracts. After the executive session, no mention of the topic of the discussion or any decisions or resolutions made during the session were made known. According to one source, the session included a presentation from Canadian County Sheriff Randall.
“The Canadian County Sheriff’s Department came and made a sales pitch,” Councilman Bobby Williamson said. “As a city councilman responsible for the future of Piedmont, I owe it to the citizens of Piedmont to explore all options that could save the city money.”
According to the press release, Piedmont is already under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s office as provided for by the Oklahoma Constitution which designates the Sheriff as the leading law enforcement officer of each county and further states municipal police departments such as Piedmont’s are effective only at the pleasure of the Sheriff.
According to Mayor Thomerson, the savings to the City would be used to repair Piedmont’s roads. A recent ‘no’ decision by voters on a bond issue as a possible solution to funding repairs on some of Piedmont’s roads left the City in a dilemma: Where to find the funds to improve Piedmont’s roads without the benefit of the additional funds which would have been provided by the proposed bond.
“We all came into office wanting to do something about roads. The citizens resoundingly said no to the bond issue, which frankly we as a governing body did a poor job of marketing. We’re trying to think outside the box,” Mayor Thomerson said regarding the proposed restructuring.
One option open to the City is to do nothing and leave the roads in their present poor condition, or they will need to cut spending in order to free up the necessary resources for the much-needed road repairs. Changing the way Piedmont’s law enforcement is currently structured is one option the council is considering.
“It’s a viable option and one that we have to seriously consider,” said Mayor Thomerson. “This is an opportunity to find funding without cutting the community short in terms of law enforcement coverage and protection.”
“What that bond issue told us was that the citizens aren’t ready to have that kind of investment. It tells me it would be difficult to go down that path. So that’s why we had to start looking in other directions. The failure of that bond did lead us to explore other avenues because we’ve got to have safe streets for the citizens,” said Councilman Charles Coffman.
During a recent budget review, the City Council determined Piedmont is paying the “gold package” price for the current law enforcement. With tax dollars already going to the Canadian County Sheriff’s Department, it seemed they had happened upon a possible solution to the “knot that must be untied” as the conundrum of road repairs in Piedmont has come to be known. With a substantial savings to the tune of 5% of the City’s total budget, approximately $300,000, the City of Piedmont opened discussions with the Canadian County Sheriff’s office in which, according to the recent press release, the Sheriff expressed a willingness to increase their presence in the eastern part of Canadian County. A proposed schedule of duty for a “Piedmont Division” and estimate of needs has been submitted for the City Council’s review by the Canadian County Sheriff’s Department. According to Councilman Charles Coffman, the Canadian County Sheriff’s department has been looking into increasing their presence in the eastern part of the county so this gives them an incentive to be a part of it.
“I think it will garner strong consideration from the council. I think it’s a good idea myself,” said Coffman. “We actually gain coverage and law enforcement. Instead of reducing services or raising taxes this is a win win. You get more services for less money. The road repairs are a complex problem. It appears we don’t have the resources and there was really nothing on the horizon.”
The proposed schedule would have a Lieutenant/Captain present in Piedmont Monday through Friday between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. Additionally one deputy would be present all day Monday and Tuesday with shifts being 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. and 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.. Wednesday through Sunday schedule shows two deputies present during the 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift and the 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. One additional deputy is scheduled on Sundays from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. This schedule provides the same level of coverage on a day-to-day basis with an increased presence during the night.
The Sheriff’s department has a forensic team and nine k-9 units which would add to Piedmont’s law enforcement resources. During an interview with Mayor Thomerson, she cited a recent incident where an individual was stopped for a suspected DWI. The officer involved was unable to take the driver in for a blood test to determine his blood alcohol level; he had no backup and his leaving would have left the city unprotected. That would not happen with the Canadian County Sheriff’s Department providing full-service to our community. They would have send another officer to maintain that presence. “We will have a greater and more consistent police presence,” said Mayor Thomerson. “We’ve got good coverage during the day, but at night we’re actually short,” she said regarding the current service provided by Piedmont’s police department.
Discussions regarding the change in law enforcement could take several months. Councilman Coffman explained this is not something that is being considered lightly. Piedmont is a growing city and will need a police force capable of handling that growth. This solution has the potential to give Piedmont more resources for less money. Recommendations have been made to the Sheriff’s Department asking that the current police station continue to provide the operational base for law enforcement providing them with local holding cells, an evidence room and at least three offices. Officers in good standing have been recommended to the Sheriff’s Department for potential employment.