F.C. Police Chief Cautions on Impact of New Staff Burdens

At Monday’s Falls Church City Council budget work session, F.C. Police Chief Harry Reitze confirmed to the Council that plans to eliminate a full-time dispatcher position in the small department will stretch the resources of the department.

Calling the dispatcher position the “hub of the wheel” of the department, Reitze stressed that the job requires special training and security clearances, including polygraph exams, as “a lot of highly sensitive data comes through them.”

He said that with summer approaching, the demands for vacation time plus illness burdens the position when it is one person short, and that a “great deal of overtime” will result. But, he added, “Overworking them is not a good idea.”

Reitze’s comments came a week after a large contingent of police employees came before the City Council to protest the City Manager’s budget plan to freeze salaries for a third year in a row while increasing the demand on police employees to now cover the costs of their pension and health insurance with seven percent of their incomes, up from zero percent two years ago. The steps amount to a considerable net reduction in take home pay.

Representatives of the Sheriff’s Department, the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department and Thomas Polera, Falls Church’s new fire marshall, also came before the Council Monday to discuss their budgets.

Polera outlined plans for a new Falls Church Fire Prevention Code that will stress the vital role of sprinkler systems and fire-retardant exterior finishes in new construction. City Manager Wyatt Shields noted that the appointment of a new City fire marshal for the first time (the City has used the services of the Arlington fire marshal up until Polera’s appointment in February) is part of a restructuring to combine the City’s new fire marshal duties with its emergency management function.

“This will increase the efficiency of building and fire code enforcement for businesses and residents in the City. It will also expand the City’s capabilities for effective, coordinated emergency management,” according to Shields.

Sheriff Steve Bittle noted that while his department was prepared to absorb a 10 percent funding cut in the new budget, than the work load us up 30 percent.

He added that the City has made no friends in Arlington now that it is demanding monthly invoices from Arlington for the City’s use of the Arlington Detention Center after Arlington’s billing snafu earlier this year hit Falls Church with an erroneous $2 million bill for use of the jail facilities.

Bittle, who began his career in Falls Church as a police officer in 1966 and has served as its sheriff since 1992, also stressed the exemplary cooperation between his department and the Falls Church Police.

Shields’ plans for the reorganization of the departments at City Hall came under fire from some Council members at the session, in particular from Council member Johannah Barry, who expressed displeasure over the failure to date of Shields’ office to provide requested breakdowns of his proposed reorganization, and how cost savings would accrue as a result.

The cost savings, in general, come from the elimination of a middle management structure to the organization of departments at City Hall that were introduced in the late 1990s by then City Manager Hector Rivera. Shields’ reorganization reverts the structure almost identically to the way it was before Rivera’s changes were made.