By Naomi Hatch
Steve Foster complained to the Taylor Town Council last week that the police were not answering calls.
Foster was on the agenda March 12 to address the council. He said the storage lockers on Willow Lane where broken into and the owner called the police while he was there, but an officer did not show up that day, so he had to take the lock and other items to the police station.
“There was only one officer that seemed interested in helping out,” he said, mentioning Officer Jeremy Young. Foster said he was told there was nothing they could do, so he went to Snowflake Town Hall, where he was reportedly told they didn’t know who was in charge of the police department. He then went to Taylor Town Hall, but said nobody knew there either.
Foster then touched briefly on sovereign unity, which he said meant “police can mess up all they want and nothing happens.” He stated that there was a ruling from the court that said, “The police have no responsibility to the average citizen, just the public at large,” noting that was upheld by the Supreme Court.
“I don’t care if Snowflake is paying more money than us, we deserve full service of the police department,” said Foster.
He said he receive a visit from two officers a couple of days later and they were trying to blame the victims because they didn’t have a list of their possessions.
He went on to say he felt one detective was trying to pull something sneaky, because he wouldn’t explain what his recording device was until Foster asked him directly.
Mayor Fay Hatch asked Snowflake-Taylor Police Chief Jerry VanWinkle to respond to the incident, which occurred on Aug. 27, 2013.
“I’m not sure where the breakdown in communication is as far as knowing who is in charge of the police department,” said the chief. “I am in charge of the police department, and I work under the direction of the Snowflake and Taylor town councils through our managers.”
The chief explained that the normal procedure would be to come to him if there is something that goes wrong.
Chief VanWinkle had reviewed the 911 calls for the incident and said the storage unit owner called at 12:20 to report a possible burglary, noting a cut lock. Because it was not ongoing, the dispatcher told the caller the officers were making an arrest at the time. During that time the dispatcher had the arrest in progress, a request from the task force for more information, a call reporting dogs in the highway and she was training two new dispatchers.
“It’s not an excuse, it shouldn’t have happened,” said the chief, noting she didn’t give the officers the call.
An hour later the storage unit owner called back and was told they had a lot going on, but would send someone. The dispatcher was advised that the owner had left the storage units and that the renter would contact the police, so she did not give the call to an officer at that time.
Chief VanWinkle said that later that evening Foster and his son brought a lock to the police department and made a report. It was dark at that time, so the officer took the information and agreed to meet them at the storage unit the next day.
“I’m not making excuses, it should never have happened,” said the chief. “We did some training in-house and did some employee discipline.”
He acknowledged that he found Foster was upset, and sent officers to talk to him and explain procedures. VanWinkle said that the camera Foster referred to is the camera that officers wear, stating, “It wasn’t anything sneaky, it’s just part of what we do now.”
“Did we make a mistake? Yes, we did. We did some things to correct that,” said VanWinkle, who then explained how they prioritize calls.
Councilman Lynn DeWitt asked how cars are assigned to areas and how many officers are on duty at any given time.
The chief said that they have two officers on, but there is not one car assigned to Taylor and one assigned to Snowflake, noting, “It’s as the officers are patrolling.”
“My question is that I heard people concerned that Taylor doesn’t get its fair share of an officer in town,” said DeWitt.
Councilman David Smith jokingly responded that there is always an officer in Taylor when he’s speeding.
“The only thing I can tell you is my officers are out patrolling both towns as much as possible, however the police department is in Snowflake,” said Chief VanWinkle, noting that if there is an arrest or officers need something from the office, they must go to Snowflake. He further pointed out that the junior high school and high school are in Snowflake, and there is a lot of activity on both campuses.
In response to a question posed by Councilman Gary Solomon, the chief said they have a total of 14 officers, including himself, and they cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays. One of those officers is assigned totally to the task force and works drug cases throughout the county, and they have a part-time school resource officer.
Foster stated, “He has no internal affairs division,” noting Chief VanWinkle is internal affairs and to Foster, that is like the fox guarding the hen house. He went on to say that he felt officers should inform everyone that they’re wearing a recording device, and it is recording the officer and the citizen.
Don Anderson, a volunteer at the police department with over 30 years of full-time service is retired and volunteers with STPD. “I’ve never seen a chief who will make car stops and calls when we need it,” he said, noting that VanWinkle does make stops and calls when he is needed. “Yeah, we have a lot of call time, because we don’t have enough officers.”
“We’ve got a bunch of hard working guys, they’re short handed,” said Anderson, noting that it’s scary at times, and they have to call the Department of Public Safety or the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office for backup.
“As far as which town gets a priority, there isn’t any,” said Anderson.
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By Naomi Hatch