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Citizens, fire district express concern over WHPD disbandment

May 11, 2018 – More than 20 citizens of the City of Wood Heights gathered together at a forum hosted by the Wood Heights Fire Protection District to discuss the recent, unexpected disbandment of their police department. The disbandment followed a 4-0 vote by the city’s Board of Aldermen in a closed-door session in April.

“The disbandment came as a total shock,” said Wood Heights Police Department Chief Jared Sartin, who expressed his appreciation of local support.

The City, in a statement printed in its entirety in the May 4 edition of The Standard, cited budget issues as reason for the disbandment, and stated that the police department runs at a consistent deficit.

The citizens feel as though the decision was made with no input from those who live in Wood Heights and gathered to explore options.

Chief of Wood Heights Fire Protection District Lee O’Dell expressed concerns over safety and the possibility of hampered responses from his first responders.

“As far as a fire agency goes, it affects us,” O’Dell said, and spoke of the need first responders have for a quick response time from local law enforcement agencies.

If there is a potential act of violence, or the threat of harm, first responders cannot go on scene until the threat has been assessed and cleared by law enforcement.

“Law enforcement has to make sure everything is safe, before we can go in and treat medically,” O’Dell said, adding that because of the area Ray County Sheriffs have to cover, the wait time for response could be around 45 minutes.

“This is critical to public safety,” he said.

Fran Gray, who once sat on the Board of Aldermen in Wood Heights, added her own concerns. To begin with, Gray said that citizens need to take a more active role.

“I want to specifically make mention of the fact that every year, the city has invited the public to participate in the budget process, but that was noticeably absent last year. And that’s coming up – July 1st is the new fiscal year, so now is a really good time to ask – is the Board going to have another forum, and can we get the police added back into the budget?”

However, Gray believes the disbandment of the Wood Heights Police Department had little to do with finances, despite the mayor’s statement.

“This isn’t money,” Gray said firmly. “It wasn’t financial. It was personal.”

The next Wood Heights Board of Aldermen meeting will be held on May 21, at the City Hall.

By Samantha Kilgore • samantha@leaderpress.com

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