Council discusses police dissolution

Alexis Barker, News Edtior

With a short staffed-police department, crumbling infrastructure and a hefty police budget, Councilman Tyrel Owens suggested that the Newcastle City Council consider holding a public meeting to discuss the dissolution of the Newcastle Police Department, with a switch to Weston County Sheriff’s Department-led policing for the city. The council decided during its Sept. 5 meeting to revisit the potential public meeting at a later date. 


“I have been getting more and more pressure from my constituents about whether we continue to operate a police department,” Owens said. 


Given the “amount of pressure” he has received, Owens said he believed the council should hold a public hearing to discuss the topic with members of the community. He noted that if the public is against the idea, then the point is moot. 


Some of the concerns raised by constituents, he said, were the cost of the police department and the lack of a workforce. 


“We operate the police department at a $1.5 million budget, and they (certain constituents) think that money might be better spent if we go to county policing and don’t have such a large line item for our budget,” Owens said.


According to Councilman Daren Downs, city citations brought in $23,600 last fiscal year. He noted that this is not even enough money to pay one officer’s wages. 


The subject of police department dissolution is something Owens said he has heard about since he began his time on the council, but only recently did the topic become one he felt the need to discuss again. He noted that because his dad was the police chief at one time, he had a soft spot for the department and wanted to see them succeed. 


“But, I think that my constituents are talking a lot that they would be better served if we have a hearing and talk to the public,” Owens said. 


Both Councilmen Tom Voss and John Butts questioned whether or not it was the appropriate time to “stir the pot” when it comes to the police department, although no explanation on why they questioned the timing was provided. 


“Not that we shouldn’t look at it, it might not be the right time,” Voss said. 


He noted that he would also like to know details, including exactly what the city would spend and save, as well as whether or not the sheriff’s department would absorb city officers so they don’t lose their jobs. 


Owens argued that with the diminished workforce at the police department, now might be the appropriate time to hold such a discussion. He again stressed that this is a conversation the public wants the city to have and that the council should consider a public meeting to examine the idea. 


“If the citizens want to keep going, then by all means. I like our police department, I want to see them succeed, but I also want to reflect what constituents want,” Owens said. “... I don’t want to see anything happen to our employees either. I want to see them supported. But it seems to be something that needs to be evaluated to some extent.” 


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