The understaffing situation at the Jackson Police Department (JPD) will provide an unexpected dividend -- badly needed new radios.

During its regular meeting on Monday evening, Nov. 8, Jackson City Council unanimously approved emergency legislation to approve the transfer of $117,592 within JPD’s 2021 budget from the Salaries & Wages line item to the Equipment line item. This will enable JPD to purchase 20 portable radios at a sale price of $117,592.52. That amount is $24,200 below the current state contract price.

The proposal was pitched to the administration, then in person at the Council meeting by Interim Police Chief Sgt. Brett Hinsch, who was put temporarily in charge at JPD upon the Oct. 22 retirement of former Police Chief Allen Potter. He emphasized the transfer of the funds and the purchase of the radios would neither result in an increase in the JPD budget nor the spending of any “new money.”

In a handout accompanying his presentation, Hinsch noted JPD still had $263,116.83 remaining in its Salaries & Wages line item for 2021, a higher-than-expected figure due to the slower than expected rebuild of the agency. Hinsch was referring to the fact that all the positions budgeted for 2021 have not been immediately filled, creating a surplus.

“You can tell any fiscal critics we are still returning money already appropriated,” Hinsch wrote in his handout. “No new money is being asked for or used. Money already granted and funded would be redirected for efficient use of public funds.”

Notwithstanding the positive fiscal angle, Hinsch says there is a clear need for new radios and “a basic need for good communication.” The radios currently in use are 10 years old, are starting to fail and it has become difficult to repair them and to secure replacement batteries.

Furthermore, there are no backup radios if any of them were to completely fail. Hinsch noted the radios are failing at a rate of about one every four months. Also, when auxiliary officers are called out for duty, there are no extra radios to issue to them, which Hinsch notes creates a safety concern and a liability issue for the city.

“This is a necessary piece of equipment from the most base of operations to the most complex of operations conducted by JPD,” Hinsch wrote in the handout.

First Ward Councilman Ryan Peters recognized the need for the new radios. “I know there is a need,” Peters stated. “You’re in a business where there is no room for error.”

Even with the transfer from the Salaries & Wages line item, Hinsch noted JPD should still be able to return well over $100,000 to the city in unused Salaries & Wages money at the end of the year. This drew a congratulatory  remark from Peters.

“I commend you for what you have done,” Peters exclaimed. “Your department saved a lot of money -- and I’m happy.”