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Let's Talk About Public Safety

AVAILABILITY: From left, Frankfort Mayor Chris McBarnes,Clinton County EMS Director Greg Miller, Clinton County Sheriff Rich Kelly and Frankfort Police Chief Troy Bacon were panelists in Wednesday’s Let’s Talk forum on public safety in the Skanta Theatre.

By AARON KENNEDY - akennedy@ftimes.com

A panel comprised of Frankfort Mayor Chris McBarnes, Clinton County EMS Director Greg Miller, Clinton County Sheriff Rich Kelly and Frankfort Police Chief Troy Bacon spoke on the topic of public safety on Wednesday in the Skanta Theatre on the second floor of the Frankfort Community Public Library.

Created through a partnership between United Way for Clinton County and Center Township, the “Let’s Talk” series of public forum series created to increase communication between the community and the various agencies and organizations that serve it.

“About a year ago, we were having community conversations with citizens, just asking them what kind of amenities they would like to see, who were they trusting to take action, and how could things get better,” Carolina Booth, executive director of United Way for Clinton County, said. “So, one of the main things that the community was saying was ‘We would like to know what the stakeholders are doing.’ At the same time, we were talking to the stakeholders, and the stakeholders were saying, ‘We are a little bit frustrated because we are working so hard making sure the opioid situation gets contained, but the community doesn’t seem to be aware of our efforts.’

“So, we decided to partner with Center Township Trustee (Kevin Evans) and say ‘Let’s bring the community and the stakeholders together, and let’s talk about the issues,” Booth continued. “How can we be part of the solution? How can we empower the community to be part of these conversations where the stakeholders get to communicate their message, and the community gets to ask questions.”

There were five Let’s Talk forums in 2018, and Wednesday’s was the first of this year.

At the start of the forum, each panelist was given five minutes to inform the public about what is currently being done in regard to public safety.

McBarnes reported that nearly half of the city’s $11.8 million budget for 2019 is spent on safety, with more than $2.6 million budgeted for the Frankfort Police Department and more than $2.8 million budgeted for the Frankfort Fire Department.

“Between the two of those, that is 47 percent of our total city general budget going to public safety,” McBarnes said. “Actually, the number is greater than that because this does not include all the health insurance costs for our fire department and police department. So, as property tax payers in the city of Frankfort, well over half of your property taxes is actually going to public safety departments.”

McBarnes also spoke on how the city has made a point of paying police officers and firefighters competitive wages, pointing out that patrol officers’ pay has increased 37 percent and firefighters’ pay has increased 30 percent since 2012.

“We still have a little ways to go, but we want to make sure that we are paying these people fairly for putting their lives on the line in the city of Frankfort every day,” he said. “To me, school teachers, firefighters, police officers, veterans – they should be making good enough wages to support their families.”

Miller reported that Clinton County EMS has been built around an “Advanced Life Support,” meaning that everyone in the county gets a paramedic when they call 911 for “about the last seven years.

“It will continue to grow to make that service even better for all the citizens of Clinton County,” Miller said. “We have a new hospital going in and, right across the street from that, we have a brand-new EMS building being built right now.” He added that the new building would house two ambulances while another will be stationed at the hospital, there is another in Mulberry, and there are three voluntary ambulances throughout the county.

“With having a paramedic on every call, we can be pretty much assured that we are getting the best care that we can,” Miller said. “You have the best available system open to you right now. We will continue to try to refine that.”

Miller reported that Clinton County EMS had 4,293 responses to calls within the county. Of those responses, ambulances responded within six minutes to any place in the county and the scene time was 15 minutes.

Sheriff Kelly reported that the sheriff’s office took over 12,000 calls to service in 2018. He also spoke on some of the tools that his department has.

“We have a great K-9 program,” Kelly said. “We have implemented a drone. We have assisted Frankfort Fire with that drone, and we have done manhunts with that drone. We utilize it for quite a few things, and we also share that ability with other county agencies to look at things in the county that are causing us issues.”

Chief Bacon spoke on his departments’ effort to engage with the community more through multiple meetings.

“We are partnering at a real micro level in communities and neighborhoods,” Bacon said. “All of that is really gelling together to make this community safe. With the excellent officers and detectives, we have partnering with the community, there is no doubt that combination has done wonders for the community.”

Bacon says that crime has trended downward over the last 10 years.

“We have been very fortunate over the past few years, in part from the relentless work from the patrol division and detectives to go and find those people who are victimizing you,” Bacon said. “I would not want to be a criminal in the city of Frankfort. Chances are, you are going to be found, and you are going to go to jail.”

Bacon added that meth, heroin and synthetics are “probably our top three things that we deal with on the street.

“I am really proud of the partnerships we have with Healthy Communities (of Clinton County Coalition), United Way and the Center Township trustee. There are some really good programs to get people into treatment who need it. When you compare 2017 to 2018, the drug overdose calls that (FPD) responded to have been cut in half.”

Anonymous questions from the audience were turned in and read to the panel by Booth, who moderated the forum. Among those asked of the panel were “How much Narcan was distributed in each area in 2018?” “How do we build a community that supports those fighting addiction?” How are the different departments working together to make our community safer?” “Why was code enforcement moved to the FPD?” “How do you best determine how to use your budget?” “Does the increase in meth have anything to do with the decrease in prescriptions (of opioids)?” And, “In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges our community is facing today?”

There was an abundance of seating left open for Wednesday’s forum, so Booth hopes that more members of the community take advantage of the opportunity to engage with panelists through the Let’s Talk series. And if they can’t, she hopes they let their concern be known through other channels available to them.

“Our lifestyles have changed so much,” Booth said. “Sometimes now we have multiple jobs, or our kids have sports. Sometimes, we just do not have enough hours in our day. But there are different ways that you can get engaged. Maybe you are not able to come here because your kids have something going on, but you can always reach out to your stakeholders or non-profits that can advocate for your concerns and needs. United Way is one of those. If you feel that there is something that we can do about a situation in your area, we may not have the answers, but we can put together a group of people who can work on those needs.

“So, there are different levels of engagement,” Booth added. “Come to the meetings, give us a call, write to your representatives. Just be part of the solution.”

Let’s Talk About Kids’ Safety is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. April 17. Panelists will be Community Schools of Frankfort Superintendent Don DeWeese, COACH Kids Executive Director Susan Grasham, Department of Child Services Director Sandra Lock and representatives from both Clinton Central and Clinton Prairie.