KINGSPORT - Police Chief Gale Osborne is hoping to add four additional patrol officers to his department's ranks in an effort to help with response times to the outlying areas of the city.
During a recent Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen budget work session, city leaders heard a proposal from City Manager John Campbell about new positions proposed for the 2008 fiscal year budget. Four of those positions were for new patrol officers.
As it stands, the new positions are in the proposed budget, which must be approved by June 30. Plans call for the officers to come on board later this fall and would bring the Kingsport Police Department's total number of officers to 109.
The KPD breaks the city down into six patrol zones with officers assigned exclusively to patrol a specific, designated area. The officers who patrol the sixth zone have to cover territory from Wilcox and Sullivan all the way to Sam's Club and the Eastern Star Exit.
Osborne said the new officers would allow the department to create a seventh patrol zone within the city, which would help with response times to the outlying sections of town.
According to Osborne, officer response times in zone six (from Riverview, Eastman Road and the Justice Center to the outlying areas on Interstate 81) could run anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes depending on the time of day and amount of traffic.
Campbell said he would like to see response times of four to five minutes.
"I don't know if that's achievable. We just want to provide the very quickest response time we can," Osborne said. "We're going to try our best and evaluate and keep track of those numbers as we do now and tweak our different zones to try to provide that very best timely service as you can."
Over the years Kingsport has annexed along I-81 and Interstate 26, up to Sam's Club and Cracker Barrel, to Eastern Star Road and most recently to the 330-home development down Rock Springs Road. Osborne said covering this distance really reduces an officer's response time.
"There's quite an expansion of those annexed areas, not only the square miles, but the road miles," Osborne said. "If I get a fight call out there that requires a backup, I may in turn have to pull another officer out of another zone to go that way. We also realize with the annexation of Edinburgh property and other annexation on the horizon, that it would just be a prime opportunity to go ahead and prepare so we can redistribute some of our calls."
In 2006, KPD received 45,365 calls, with a majority being in the downtown (23 percent) and northern part of town (21 percent). The sixth zone on the other hand received 12 percent of the calls in 2006. By creating a seventh zone, Osborne said it would redistribute some of the calls and equalize the zones better.
"By creating a zone seven we'd have a prime opportunity to stay out in that area to work the interstate," Osborne said, adding that 35,000 to 40,000 vehicles travel I-81 daily. "We also have four major intersections out there - Exits 57, 59, 63 and 66. It's quite a bit of road."
To help support the need for additional patrol officers, Osborne cited a formula developed by the police department in the late 1980s, which states one officer is needed for every 387 complaints, 452 people, 3.9 street miles and 0.365 square miles.
According to the latest figures:
•45,364 calls equals 117.2 officers.
•45,173 people equals 99.9 officers.
•426 street miles equals 109.3 officers.
•45.93 square miles equals 125.8 officers.
Osborne said the average of the formula has the KPD needing 114 officers. Including the four new positions, the KPD will be 109 officers.
"We're not exactly to that point, but at the same time four would make a very significant difference to help us provide a better service," Osborne said.