The Cedar Falls City Council will hold a special meeting this Thursday evening to consider fully implementing the public safety officer model. A 5-2 vote to set the 6 p.m. meeting came at the end of a lengthy work session yesterday(Mon), updating council members on the City’s public safety program. Public Safety Director Jeff Olson laid out the rationale for the program, started in 2014, to cross train police officers and firefighters during a nearly 1 1/2-hour presentation.
Following another hour of discussion on the topic, council member Simon Harding moved to hold a forum with firefighters to include “expert” voices offering other perspectives. Harding says he’s heard conflicting information about the PSO model from firefighters. A number of Cedar Falls firefighters have vocally opposed the city’s use of public safety officers. He proposed a two to three month study of what’s working and what isn’t. Council member Frank Darrah seconded his motion, but it failed 4-3 with council member Dave Sires also voting in favor.
Earlier, Olson explained that the city saw an uptick in the number of personnel responding to a fire after creation of the PSO model. This happened despite not adding to the city’s staffing levels, which he said could help “save a significant amount of money” in the future. He cited an analysis by the city’s finance department showing a $2 million additional annual cost to separate the police and fire divisions while maintaining staffing levels.
PSOs carry firefighting gear in their vehicles with the idea that they can get to a scene quickly and begin responding. That includes three squad cars carrying a 30-gallon compressed air foam tank that can be sprayed to begin knocking down a fire before the engines arrive. Starting in 2016, the department required that all new hires for the police and fire divisions had to be cross-trained public safety officers.
Cedar Falls currently has 60 sworn police officers, up from 40 a number of years ago. Of those, 53 are PSOs. There are 67 firefighters now compared to 30 a few years ago, 53 of whom are PSOs.