PSO system threatens citizen safety

I’m not typically one to get involved in local politics, but this city council decision to implement PSOs has got me fired up (no pun intended). On Thursday, Feb. 20, there was a special city council meeting discussing the full implementation of Public Safety Officers (PSOs) in Cedar Falls. Their plan being to replace firefighters with PSOs, the council said firefighters should be cross-trained as police officers and firefighters.

Cedar Falls started playing with this model in 2014. For the last six years our city has had three positions for responders: firefighters, police officers and PSOs. The idea behind PSOs is that they’ll save the city money and increase the number of responders in CF. 

The practice the city is utilizing now is hiring PSOs as current employees retire or resign. Another option the council was looking into regards “reorganization” of CF fire departments. The plan presented at the meeting lists as follows:

“maintain fire supervisory positions and eliminate firefighter positions

assist firefighters with other employment in the city (PSO and other city positions)

if a firefighter chooses to leave employment with the city, we offer a separation package of six months pay and six months health insurance”

The city council meeting regarding the decision lasted nearly four hours and ended in a 5-2 vote in support of implementing the PSO program. It didn’t last long though since Mayor Rob Green decided to veto the council’s decision on Friday, Feb. 21. He issued the following statement on Facebook:

“I’ve transmitted my veto of last night’s council action to the City Clerk a few moments ago. I’m very disappointed it’s come to this. The council should have waited until after the special election to make it’s ‘Full Implementation /Eliminate Traditional Firefighters Immediately’ decision—this rush job by council is unacceptable. I now have the dubious distinction of issuing the first Mayor veto in 20 years; I realize the supermajority makes it only symbolic, and it will be overruled by our March 2 meeting, but I am issuing it nonetheless.”

Mayor Green also stated in his veto that it’s his job “to seek to ensure fairness” and that “the process and timeline used for the Special Meeting was decidedly unfair.” 

Although he said his veto will likely be overruled, I was beyond happy to see Green take a stand on the issue in support of the many families that will be affected by the council’s decision.

Over 30 supporters and opponents spoke in the time given for public comments at the special meeting. The one that resonated with me the most was Sheri Purdy, the wife of a Cedar Falls firefighter. “You are affecting my family,” Purdy said. “It’s more than just safety, it’s families that are affected.”

Purdy said her husband has dedicated 22 years to his profession as a firefighter for the city, and he now helps train PSOs. “Firefighters go into that job for the love of the job, for the safety of the people. Police officers do the same thing and they are two different skill sets,” Purdy said.

Purdy then went on to conclude her thoughts on how it’s absurd that her husband has been a part of training these PSOs. “I find it asinine that he’s training the guys that will be pushing him out of a job,” Purdy said. 

After her emotional speech at the special meeting, community members clapped and cheered before Green went on to say no more applause would be allowed for speakers the rest of the night.

Daves Sires and Simon Harding were the two council votes against the PSO implementation. Both made comments throughout the hearing that the council was not representing what the community members wanted. “I do believe this is not truly representative of what the people want,” Harding said. 

As a member of the Cedar Falls community, I feel unsafe in a town that struggles to put the wants and needs of its citizens first. I’m appalled at how it seems the council members are more concerned about saving money rather than hearing out the complaints of their people. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Police officers go into their professions because they want to be police officers. Firefighters go into their professions because they want to be firefighters. Both share the jobs of saving people and protecting our city, but they require vastly different skill sets like Purdy said at the special meeting.

It seems ridiculous that one profession could be responsible for all of the safety needs in an emergency situation. It seems to me that if there was an emergency situation, these PSOs would divide and conquer anyway. Some will put their “police” hat on and others will put their “firefighter” hat on. One can’t save someone from a burning building and arrest the person who started it at the same time. There are going to be two roles no matter what.

What if a firefighter doesn’t want to carry a gun? What if a police officer doesn’t want to run through burning buildings? By implementing this plan we are forcing people who have dedicated years of work to their professions in this city by turning them into the people they didn’t want to be.

Many arguments have been made that there’s always been the divide between firefighters and police officers, but what makes us think that adding another party to the mix is going to solve any problems? Especially when this new party is taking over their jobs.

I guess my idea is that we need to let police officers do their jobs and let firefighters do their jobs. If they aren’t getting along, make them do team building exercises or something, but please, Cedar Falls, don’t compromise my safety, my family’s safety and my community’s safety just to save money and implement these PSOs.

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