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Police chief, city manager share update on resource officers

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Roswell Police Chief Phil Smith discusses the police department’s current recruiting status and addresses citizen concerns with City Manager Joe Neeb at the public forum at Del Norte Elementary School Tuesday evening. Neeb said the city will do what it can in the interim while new officers are in training. Tuesday also marked Neeb’s first full year as Roswell’s city manager. (Alison Penn Photo)

Roswell Police Chief Phil Smith and City Manager Joe Neeb shared an update on police recruiting efforts and school resource officers at the Del Norte Elementary public forum on Tuesday night.

The forum was held to present site plans for Del Norte Elementary, and also engage the community on a variety of other topics.

Chief Smith said the Roswell Police Department (RPD) was aware of most of the problems community members brought up — like speeding, vandalism during upcoming construction of Del Norte Elementary School and a lack of school resource officers.

“Just be patient,” Smith said regarding school resource officers. “We are very aware of the schools. In my opinion, the school is where you stop crime before it happens and that is what we are trying to do.

“We have to expand that program and we are in the process of doing it. It’s part of our plan. We obviously have the manning to where we want to be. Right now we have the manning — it’s supposed to be but they’re in training.”

In other crime-deterring plans, Smith said the RDP is working around town with prioritized policing for speeding enforcement, targeting ‘hotspot’ areas.

Vandalism would be addressed and prevented with more of a police presence, Smith said. Neeb said the contractors would take care of their property during construction of Del Norte Elementary School, and the RPD can help if need be.

Neeb urged the public to contact the RPD with concerns and to not wait for meetings to get them addressed. Regarding RPD recruitment, Neeb said the city is “tickled” to be nearly fully staffed.

“We have a very aggressive traction campaign going on in order to make sure that we keep people in the wings that can come in and help us,” Neeb said. “We are really hopeful that will help drive a lot of what the chief is talking about with reducing crime and everything.”

In the past, Smith said recruitment has gone out of state and targeted economically struggling areas to give officers jobs. For the past two to three years the RPD has been targeting local talent.

Smith said hiring local community members creates a force that wants to stay and take care of their community and families.

He said for liability reasons, a new officer must have 17 weeks of field training and 16 weeks of the police academy.

“I can’t put brand new guys in training in schools,” Smith said. “I hand-pick who goes into the schools. They have to have a certain demeanor and view of things.”

Calling the school resource officer presence thin, Chief Smith said there are two resource officers and a sergeant covering all the schools. RPD’s ultimate goal is to see seven resource officers in the police force — one in each high school and junior high with a rotation in the elementary schools.

Smith said in the past — when there was a full staff of four resource officers and a sergeant in schools — crime started to dip. Smith said he wants students to know police officers are present to help them, to know the officers by name to increase familiarity, and realize the positive influence law enforcement can have.

In the meantime, Smith said the deficit of school resource officers can be helped with more visible patrols at the schools, which City Manager Joe Neeb reiterated later in the meeting.

Chief Smith said public service aides (PSA) can monitor illegal parking among other services, like absorbing calls to keep other officers on the streets. At this moment, Smith there are four PSAs, two in training and two on the streets.

“Making the arrests isn’t stopping the crime from happening — it’s reacting after,” Smith said. “We want to be in these schools, in these areas, out front, to deter it before it happens. That’s the game plan.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.