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Lawrence council approves additional $1.1 million for public safety funding amid department staffing shortages

Posted at 11:05 AM, Sep 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-07 12:43:55-04

LAWRENCE — First responder agencies across the country are struggling to recruit members and Indiana agencies aren't immune.

That's why the city of Lawrence is spending more than $1 million on public safety.

The money is a supplemental appropriation is additional funding for the 2023 budget year.

The town council voted 6-0 approving the funding, with two council members abstaining from voting.

The $1.1 million additional money will come from the city's general fund.

Officials say the approval comes at a much needed time.

Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier said he asked for the additional funding to help in public safety needs.

The approval will give $480,000 to the police department and $297,000 to the fire department.

"We're having the same issue that everybody else is, in that we need more firefighters and we need more police officers. We have the budget to be able to support that we just can't find them," Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier said.

Both the Fire and Police departments are short staffed.

It's an issue agencies across the country are facing.

Lawrence Deputy Police Chief Gary Woodruff says Lawrence is seeing an uptick in crime, but adds it's not just in Lawrence.

"The reverence of life, it just doesn't seem to be there county wide," Deputy Chief Woodruff said.

The influx in crime has called for overtime patrols and with a shortage of officers it can out a strain on a budget.

The department allocated for 65 full time sworn officers, Woodruff says this year they've operated between 55 and 60.

"We have X amount of officers to cover Y amount of positions. So we have to pay overtime to back fill some of those vacancies that we have to maintain our minimum staffing, and to provide the appropriate public safety services," Woodruff said.

Another factor playing into the strain on first responders, they say is growth in economic and the population in the town.

Lawrence Fire Chief Dino Batalis said it makes it difficult being 3 firefighters shy of their need.

"If you go back seven to eight years the population was less, the runs were less (and) we were at 83 full time firefighters plus our civilians. Today we're pushing up toward 52,000, our run load has gotten a log larger and we're still at 83," Batalis said.

The additional funding will allow for 1/3 of the police cars to be replaced, additional tactical equipment, and training for officers.

It will also allow for psychological testing for new police hires.

The fire department will get a new fire engine with a majority going toward updating the training center that hasn't been updated in over a decade.

"It's not about having a shiny new trick, it's about having the updated equipment so our people are better proficient to do their jobs to serve the community who pays us," Batalis said.