Johnson County agencies making moves to keep up with growth

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind – Several public safety agencies are taking steps in order to keep up with steady population growth in Johnson County.

On any given day, the White River Township Fire Department typically has 17 firefighters on duty. It’s the same staffing level the department has had for the last 20 years, and the White River Township Fire District’s population has grown from 35,000 residents to about 48,000 residents in the last decade.

In addition, on an average day, 6 of the 17 firefighters are part-time employees making about $13 per hour. Chief Jeremy Pell says it’s getting more difficult to keep part-time firefighters in the department.

“We have the capability of one house fire, and that exhausts all our entire firefighting staff,” said Pell. “We can’t take that second run.”

Pell says the department anticipated continued growth in the area, but it has consistently exceeded expectations. In prior years, Pell says he has worked to stay within existing budgets. This year, however, he’s asking the Johnson County Council for nearly $365,000 in additional funding to change several part-time positions into full-time positions and making staffing steadier. He also plans to replace some department equipment. Next year, he hopes to add an engine company, which would add 4 more firefighters to daily staffing levels. Overall, he hopes to move WRTFD away from relying on part-time employees and make it a completely full-time department.

“It’s not just a hope, it’s absolutely necessary,” Pell said. “Because we have 48,000 people in this community, we have a school district that’s approaching 10,000 students, and they rely on us to protect them.”

The department’s budget, including the increase, has already passed the County Council on a first reading vote. A second and final vote is scheduled for October 11.

The City of Greenwood’s population increased from nearly 50,000 residents to almost 64,000 in the last decade. The Greenwood Police Department currently has 67 officers, with 4 more on the way this fall. Three more officers are set to be heard early next year, which would bring the department up to 74.

“We are understaffed right now as we stand,” said Greenwood Police Chief James Ison. “I will say the citizens of Greenwood are as safe as ever.”

Ison says he wants to get the department up into the 90s and plans to continue gradual hiring to achieve that.

“The Mayor and I have agreed that the goal is to continue to a minimum of three officers every year for the next five,” Ison said.

Increasing department numbers will allow Greenwood Police to achieve some specific goals Ison has.

“Build up our child crime units, narcotics and get more interdiction type teams out on the street,” he said.

Countywide growth is expected to continue, especially with the impending construction of the new I-69 in the western part of the county. In addition to hiring, Chief Ison says he will continue to rely on emerging technology and crime analytics in order to make his department as efficient as possible.

“Hopefully, the ultimate goal is to deter and prevent the crime,” he said. “But when it happens, we’re also in that area to respond and have a better opportunity to make an apprehension.”

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