Mayor Wood has asserted on many occasions that there is no public service provided by local government more vital than public safety. Here in Mishawaka, protecting Citizens, their property and their neighborhood is job #1. Thankfully, the proactive approach to police work continues to keep the Princess City a safe place to live, work and raise a family.
The constant patrols, painstaking detective work, active community involvement, and focused training are all fundamental strengths of the Mishawaka Police Department (MPD). Mayor Dave Wood is thankful every day (and can sleep well each night) understanding and appreciating the outstanding work performed by the MPD.
The Citizens of Mishawaka have undoubtedly heard Mayor Wood communicate that it is getting more difficult to provide this service due to many factors, most notably, the difficulty in attracting and hiring qualified police officers. He has said on many occasions, and is reasserting here, his strong belief this has the potential to be a crisis in Mishawaka, the State of Indiana and beyond. Police forces are aging, and more officers are retiring than new recruits are backfilling.
It quite simply comes down to the basic economic principle of supply and demand; there is more demand for police officers than there is supply in the marketplace. This is creating intense competition to attract officers among Indiana communities. In addition, Mayor Wood, the Mishawaka Common Council and many within our City of Mishawaka government have heard loud and clear from our residents, requesting more officers to patrol our streets and neighborhoods.
Thus, the City of Mishawaka has been determined not to be caught flat-footed by staying ahead of this issue and so creative solutions were sought. As a result, Rich Freeman, President of the Mishawaka FOP and his team brought a proposal to the administration a year ago. After careful study, Mayor Dave Wood, his administrative team and leaders of the Mishawaka Common Council became extremely excited about an innovative, proven, police staffing model that will help Mishawaka accomplish threefold goals. These are: increasing MPD shift strength, putting more officers on the street at any given time and significantly increasing their compensation. This will make MPD officers among the highest paid in the state while not straining the City with long-term, unsustainable requirements.
Here’s how it works: the City currently has 114 officers budgeted and funded in the City budget. The MPD currently has about 96 officers on the force, and it would take MPD years to get to the 114 budgeted number. MPD officers currently work an 8-hour shift on a 6-day on, 3-day off rotation. There are currently three shifts. After January 1, 2024, we will have 99 officers in the budget (down from 114). Officers will work 12-hour work shifts, seven days out of a 14-day cycle. The model will take us to 2-shifts (down from 3).
Officers will work more hours in their workday. Shifts will go from a minimum of 10 officers on duty to 14 to 16 at any given time. Among the many benefits to the community, will be more officers on the street.
Officers will work more hours annually and we will be compensated accordingly for their time. On average, MPD officers will make $90,000 per year in the second year of the agreement. MPD officers will also receive more days off in a row including every other weekend, so that they have quality family time off-duty. Through much collaboration, the City of Mishawaka has strategically designed an approach to make this innovative MPD staffing model revenue neutral, by not funding the difference between 99-114 officers. Mishawaka will also save on expenses such as equipment, benefits, training, overtime, etc. This makes a win-win-win situation for the community, our MPD officers and the City!
As one can imagine with anything government related, initiatives of this magnitude happen neither quickly nor easily. The new proposal took months to develop and had to be written into the City’s budget and salary ordinance. A completely new collective bargaining agreement/contract had to be written and approved requiring the approvals of the Board of Public Works & Safety, the Mishawaka Common Council and the Fraternal Order of Police.
Mayor Wood is happy to communicate that the FOP overwhelmingly approved, and the Mishawaka Common Council unanimously approved the changes as well. Come January 1, the new model will take effect and with it, the long-term health and stability of the Mishawaka Police Department and best prospects for the safety of the City of Mishawaka.
Word of the new model has already spread, far beyond our borders. Subsequently, Mayor Wood has been approached by several mayors in Indiana and Chief Witkowski has been approached by chiefs all over the State inquiring about the innovative MPD staffing model. Perhaps the best result so far is that the MPD is already seeing more applicants in the department, including lateral transfers. Mishawaka and the Mishawaka Police Department always seek to hire the best of the best and this ensures their ability to continue to do that into the future.
Mayor Dave Wood is proud to have played a significant role in the development of this creative new concept, but he is most proud of the collaborative effort that has made it a reality. Mayor Wood is extraordinarily thankful for the for the hard work of the entire team that has made this a reality including the FOP team, President Richard Freeman, Sgt. Miles Andrews, Sgt. Jonathan Phipps, Sgt. John Comeau and Lt. Joshua Mortimore; MPD Police Chief, Ken Witkowski, Assistant Chief of Records Division, Alex Arendt, Assistant Chief of the Uniform Division, Craig Nowacki and City Controller, Rebecca Maguire.
Mayor Wood would also like to recognize Mishawaka Common Council President, Gregg Hixenbaugh for playing a significant leadership role throughout the discussions and for his outstanding efforts in working to make the innovative, MPD staffing model a reality.
Looking ahead, Mayor Wood, the City of Mishawaka, the MPD and the Mishawaka Common Council leadership have already begun substantive discussions with leaders of School City of Mishawaka to bring a creative new model and partnership to provide school resource officers to Mishawaka schools, thus making our schools safer – perhaps a great topic for a future article!