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Priorities Identified for Public Safety and Criminal Justice in Springfield/Greene County

Seven priorities for public safety and criminal justice were presented today to Springfield and Greene County officials. KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more…

One of the top priorities identified by the Safety and Justice Roundtable is solving the police-fire pension fund shortfall. Robert Spence is co-chair of the Roundtable, an 18-member citizen task force formed by the Greene Co. Commission and Springfield City Council in December of 2007. It was charged with developing a comprehensive understanding of the community’s criminal justice and public safety system. Members were asked to identify and prioritize the needs within the system and recommend possible solutions for those needs.

Spence says the police-fire pension fund shortfall needs to be addressed before anything else can be accomplished…

"I think it is the overarching virtual pall that just rests over everything. Any initiative that is being discussed, whether it be finding more personnel for police or fire departments or any other kind of expansion seems to immediately bump into that ceiling...'oh, but the pension-fire issue is going to prevent our doing that.'"

The other top priorities include reducing the jail population, improving the family and juvenile justice system, combining emergency response agency facilities, enhancing data sharing and interagency communication, increasing staffing throughout the system and expanding facilities.Greene County Commissioner Dave Coonrod says some of those needs are already being addressed. For instance, there are plans in place for 2013 to construct a wing that would connect the Judicial Courts Building with the Juvenile Services Office. He says the structure would be at least three stories…

"We think it will meet the needs that we have and possibly, although we haven't had the dialogue yet with Springfield, possibly let them relocate their municipal court in that wing. It lets us address what would be a new juvenile family court system, which is fairly unique to the area, and we might even be the first in the state to do that, which really helps expedite cases and then, lastly, it would give us more space for our juvenile folks."

Plans are also in the works for a $20 million emergency operations center, which is expected to open in 2011.The report states that when public funding is short, taxpayers tend to believe government agencies should simply cut costs by trimming the fat. But Roundtable co-chair Jean Twitty says they’ve determined there’s little or no fat to trim…

"There are few, if any, areas where resources canbe reappropriated to provide more funding for another area. Cutting costs in this situation would mean cutting services ultimately eroding our public's level of public safety and, most importantly, our quality of life here in Springfield."

She says several of the Roundtable’s recommendations will necessitate increased funding…

"Our community must decide which is more important: low taxes or adequate public safety. It's truly a public choice."

However, she says they believe many of the recommendations may be able to be addressed with increased communication and ability to work across agency lines.City and County officials will meet with the Safety and Justice Roundtable in six months and in one year for updates on what’s been done to address the needs that the Roundtable identified.