Harper Woods takes steps for a public safety department

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published March 12, 2013

HARPER WOODS — City Council passed the first readings of ordinances that establish the Department of Public Safety in the city, which paves the way for the city to be able to use cross-trained officers to both fight fires and do police work.

This is something city officials have wanted for a long time but doesn’t change the possibility of placing the Public Safety initiative on an upcoming ballot for voters to approve a City Charter change.

The City Council voted unanimously on the first readings of the ordinances at its March 4 meeting.

“We must establish legal authority,” City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk told the council.

The ordinances create the structure of the new department that will consist of a police department with cross-trained officers and a fire department with firefighters/paramedics.

It also spells out how the department will be led.

“The Department of Public Safety shall be headed by the Director of Public Safety who shall be an administrative officer of the city and commanding officer of the Department, which incorporates the office of Chief of Police and assumes responsibility for all aspects of public safety,” according to one of the ordinances.

The council did not discuss that position during the vote on the first readings.

After years of fighting over the issue of using cross-trained firefighters, the city administration and firefighters reached an agreement earlier this year that allows the city to use the cross-trained officers and part-time firefighters if certain parameters are met, like not forcing firefighters to cross-train and keeping a certain number of full-time firefighters on duty.

As things stand now, however, the city cannot abolish the two separate departments in favor of a combined public safety department like in the Grosse Pointes. That would be a violation of the city’s charter.

The city tried to change the charter in favor of a public safety initiative through a ballot proposal in 2011, but that failed to garner enough votes, and the city had to wait two years to try again. Those two years are up, and council members have said that they intend to take it back to the voters.

Prior to voting on the ordinance changes, Council member Charles Flanagan wanted information on how this move impacts the city’s future plans on the ballot initiative. Apparently, the council can still move forward with those plans.

“The ballot initiative — that’s up to council,” Skotarczyk said.