SIKESTON -- From 10-speed bikes to a bomb robot, the Sikeston Department of Public Safety has acquired a wide range of specialized equipment over the years -- but do they need it?
"Not too many years ago we were facing a number of issues related to public safety concerns," said City Manager Doug Friend.
"Now we are the envy of many other cities," said Drew Juden, DPS director. "In fact, I have been contacted by other agencies across this state wanting to know how we did it. We did it by stepping out front and not being afraid to admit to our problems and face them head on in a proactive manner."
Having specialized equipment available means DPS is able to respond to a wider variety of situations making the community safer for its citizens, Juden said.
"It also means that many of your federal tax dollars are being spent right here and not in some far-off location," he said. "It has also saved local dollars that may have had to have been budgeted for the replacement or purchase of equipment. It means that up until this budget year, for at least the past 10 years, some salaries have been paid for by grant dollars."
As a department of public safety, DPS has the ability to apply for both law enforcement and fire protection grants.
"We are very lucky here in that some very intelligent individuals had the foresight in 1976 to embrace the public safety concept. That concept has saved our city roughly a million dollars per year, versus the traditional police and fire departments," Juden said.
DPS grant applications are prepared in-house by staff personnel and administered by city staff.
Residents occasionally suggest grant money could be better spent in other ways but most grants have specific purposes and are audited closely to ensure the money is used as intended.
Some of the programs that have made a significant impact on the community are the federally-funded Weed and Seed program, the Community Oriented Policing project and the School Resource Officers program.
"COPS started as a program of personnel and quickly grew into a departmental concept that is still in place today bringing the community closer to law enforcement," Juden said. "This program paid for salaries as well as equipment and overtime." Personnel grants typically cover all costs associated with the positions including overtime and other personnel costs.
The SRO program, in turn, not only paid for officers but also allowed the purchase of equipment.
"In fact, this program purchased some of the first cameras that we installed and we will be adding to those this year due to another grant award," Juden said.
Fire act grants have been used to buy both basic and advanced equipment for the fire division such as self-contained breathing apparatus, a mobile air unit for on-scene refilling of SCBAs, and thermal imaging units to assist with the location of concealed fire and fire victims.
With equipment grants, the only costs not covered are routine maintenance and insurance.
DPS has also successfully partnered with other communities on grants, most notably with Jackson for a regional Hazardous Material Response Team and with Jackson, Poplar Bluff and Cape Girardeau for the SEMO Bomb Squad.
Today, DPS remains on the cutting edge of effective public safety.
Current buzz words in public safety include "interoperable communication," which Juden said is "police, fire and medical being able to communicate together, being able to work together and not fight over turf."
This concept, along with regionalization, is continuing to garner support at both the state and federal levels but is nothing new here: "As I have said many times since 9-11, we were working together and interoperable long before it was cool to do," Juden said.
While many grants have purchased equipment for routine public safety, much of it can also be used during a natural disaster.
"We try to plan for the worst-case scenario and then anything less is much more manageable," he said.
A major earthquake is now the top natural disaster concern for federal authorities, according to Juden.
"We saw what happened in the Gulf region, and we know when the New Madrid fault trips, we will be on our own," he said. "We are not predicting or trying to create another scare, it is just the reality of the situation. We will need all of the help we can get from each citizen."
Juden said a program will be initiated this spring which will train a core of citizens to respond to an emergency of this type working alongside a well-
"We look at our equipment as a tool box. We want to have the best tool box so that we can better serve and protect each of you," Juden said. "We want to continue to lead the state and remain 'Sikeston Proud.'"