Fire, police department heads discuss not having academies in 2015 budget with Tulsa city councilors

TULSA - Tulsa's fire and police chiefs fielded questions from Tulsa city councilors about the lack of academies funded in their departments in the 2015 fiscal year budget proposed by Mayor Dewey Bartlett .

Bartlett, who wants to restore academies for both departments in the 2016 fiscal year, also wants to provide a dedicated funding stream for police, fire and 911 service.

Bartlett, who in 2013 proposed extending the existing 0.167 percent sales tax as a dedicating funding source but did not get council support, is proposing a similar measure.

He wants to see the a vote given to Tulsa residents, where two-tenths of a cent of the existing sales would be dedicated to public safety services.

Click here  for the full 2014-15 proposed budget

While that remains to be seen, Fire Chief Ray Driskell and Police Chief Chuck Jordan operate under the assumption they will not have academies in the 2015 fiscal year to at least maintain current staffing levels.

Both say they don't want to see other departments forced to layoff employees in an effort to create fire and police academies.

"I don't want to see 50 people being laid off to support an academy when we know that we can get it done if we have to with where we're at," Driskell said following his presentation to the budget committee.

Driskell also says, though, that the department is likely to see increased costs in terms of overtime pay and workman's compensation as staffing levels drop.

"When you have fewer people on the scene to do a large amount of work, they're still going to get the job done. But when they do, they stress themselves out and that's when injures occur."

Driskell estimates that by July 1, even with 12 new firefighters graduating from an academy, the department will have a net loss of 28 firefighters.

If the next academy isn't until January 2016 and training takes three to four months, according to Driskell, it could be April 2016 before any of those 28 vacancies are filled. 

"It doesn't sit well. You always want to be at authorize strength when you can. You reduce injuries and many other things," he said.

Jordan says he would support the mayor's dedicated funding stream proposal or any other that any city politician would make.

"There's going to be a point where they're going to have to have more money for public safety," Jordan said.

Jordan says there are 771 officers in the Tulsa Police Department, but it's a number that will decrease in the next fiscal year without an academy. 

Staffing reductions could lead to officers doubling up on some patrols. In a more drastic scenario, it could mean police stop responding to non-injury accidents or burglaries from vehicles, as was done in the past.

He reiterated that it's no time to panic, but said his department is about 90 officers short of recommended staffing levels.

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