John Linko Column November 16, 2008

Public safety initiative is just one leg of stool

Grand Junction police and firefighters are in desperate need of new facilities from which to meet their responsibilities and achieve their mission.

I believe that there will be new Grand Junction police and fire stations going up where the current ones exist, regardless of what the voters said on Questions 2A and 2B, Nov. 4. I also believe that a dedicated revenue stream for public safety is necessary until all of the components of a best-practice system are in place. These components are technology, processes and people.

The city’s public safety initiative appeared to consist of a single goal: to build the physical plant and install the equipment necessary to do the job. However, the ongoing success of this initiative will also depend on the procedures that define how this infrastructure is utilized. Equally important are trained personnel to efficiently function within the organization, utilizing the processes and tools at their disposal to successfully fulfill the mission.

I equate this to a three-legged stool. It doesn’t matter how sturdy one leg is; if all three aren’t there, structured and in position for their intended jobs, the stool isn’t going to be upright for very long.

Following the defeat of 2A and 2B, I believe there are several issues that comprise the process and people segments of a best practice that need to be addressed. These are:

•  Regionalization/consolidation: Any evaluation of core operating processes must consider opportunities for providing service on a regional level, borrowing from the model currently employed by the county’s 911 center.
The topography of the Grand Valley seems ideal to explore the feasibility of a consolidated metropolitan police force. This could go a long way toward standardizing response and coordination, as well as training, equipment, personnel standards and compensation.
The political realities of sitting down to discuss something like this reduce the odds of such a change ever seeing the light of day. Still, could the act of establishing dialogue result in more efficient service delivery to a frugal citizenry? Has this subject has ever been brought forth locally, and what conclusions were reached?
The same issue exists for fire service. As the city annexes east of 30 Road and north of the Colorado River, it gobbles up more territory inside the Clifton Fire Protection District. Little mention has been made of how Grand Junction will assume responsibility for areas currently served by Clifton if the city gets a fire station in Pear Park.
Voters in the Clifton Fire District approved a tax increase on Election Day. It seems this district is preparing to deal with increased growth and call volume, not reduce in size as the city annexes more of its area. What discussions have taken place here?
We need to ensure that all efforts have been made to optimize the efficiency of these critical services, from both a delivery and resource stewardship perspective.

• Annexation reform: As a resident of the city’s original square mile, I have serious concerns with the way existing public safety resources are being spread thin by patchwork, haphazard annexation under the Persigo Agreement of 1998. These annexations have unduly complicated the already difficult job we ask of our public safety professionals.
The Grand Junction City Council needs to carefully consider the potential impact of annexation on existing city residents and their service providers before approving any further annexation, at least until the Persigo Agreement is formally re-negotiated.

•  Citizen Advisory Board: Strong consideration should be given to establishing a permanent volunteer advisory board for public safety, similar to those that provide input to the Parks and Recreation Department and the Visitor and Convention Bureau.

•  Emergency Management: Grand Junction is among the largest cities in the state without a full-time emergency manager. This leaves the job of threat assessment, planning and management of major incidents and disasters in the hands of responders already burdened with other responsibilities. Mesa County’s emergency manager is skilled and diligent, but cannot be the sole professional responsible for emergency planning for the entire metropolitan area.

•  Human Resources: The key to the effectiveness of any public safety system is the people in it, from the bottom up. With a larger, more complex infrastructure will come significant changes in processes, and the number of people required to effectively manage and interact with both will increase accordingly. The city must be prepared to respond to these needs, well in advance of the completion of new public safety facilities.

The above five items need to be talking points for anyone who aspires to serve on City Council next April.

In as complex and critical an enterprise as public safety, the broad brush strokes that comprised the initial plans for these new facilities must be detailed with an evaluation of how these services are currently delivered, and how that delivery can be improved regardless of boundary lines. This should be combined with a more responsible approach to the city’s growth, and adequate staffing of positions critical to the success and safety of field personnel.

The application of best practice standards from the start will go a long way toward assuring that our public safety services are prepared for the challenges that face them now and are likely to increase in the not-so-distant future.

John Linko has been employed in the field of emergency communications since 1983, with emphasis on public safety, health care and mass media. He resides in Grand Junction with his son Evan.


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