Leader Blues

Monday, August 10, 2009

TOP STORY >> Austin growing, crime on rise

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Austin Police Chief John Staley says the city is growing. Traffic has picked up. Crime is on the rise, and the only way to keep up is to enlarge the police department.

To that end, Staley got approval from the mayor and city council recently to promote Don Sims to sergeant and raise his hourly wage from $8.84 to $10.60.

At the same time, Todd Baldwin, the other full-time police officer, received a pay increase of 76 cents an hour from $9.24 to $10 along with the promise of a promotion to corporal when another full-time officer is hired next year.

“Sims, who has worked in law enforcement in Lonoke County for about 15 years, has the experience needed for the job,” the chief said.

“He’s very cool, calm and collected,” he said.

The raises were less than Staley said he wanted for his officers. But he said the reason the mayor and council couldn’t do more was obvious.

“We’re collecting taxes on a population of 608 and we’re probably closer to 2,500,” he said.

So while he waits for more revenue from the 2010 census to help him build his department from three full-time officers, counting himself, and eight parttime, he’s working toward getting it organized.

Staley also has applied for a $1,000 grant from Walmart to help pay the expense of setting up neighborhood watch groups in every subdivision in town.

Like Cabot, Austin has a lot of crime of opportunity. Unlocked cars and houses don’t necessarily tempt otherwise honest people, he said. But they are an easy target for those who aren’t honest or who are looking for a little excitement, he said.

“You’ve got to lock your cars,” is the first message Staley intends to get across when neighborhood watch meetings begin in September or October with or without the grant.

Between the increased traffic and crime, Staley says, “We’re getting slammed and we’ve got to have more people.”

He says he hears complaints from residents that the police are never around when they are needed.

More officers will improve that situation, but he says better communication is also needed. The officers come when they are called, he said, adding that not all residents call when they need help.