Better Streets, Safer City public safety update
On Sept. 12, 2017, Oklahoma City voters approved 13 bond propositions and two sales tax initiatives known as the Better Streets, Safer City projects.
The 10-year, $967 million bond package invests in streets, police and fire facilities, parks and other basic needs. It succeeds the 2007 bond program, which is almost complete.
A new, permanent 1/4 cent sales tax is being invested primarily in the Police Department and Fire Department.
The first increase in the permanent general operations sales tax rate since voters approved a 1-cent raise in 1976, the sales tax is invested in the City’s General Fund. About two thirds of the General Fund goes to public safety services, with the rest paying for other basic services like animal control, parks and transit.
The City Council is using the funds to pay for hiring 129 additional police officers, and hiring 57 more firefighters to staff two additional fire stations and bring an idled fire engine back into service.
By adding an estimated $26 million per year to the General Fund, the funds will also allow the Council to reverse the cutbacks to other critical services included in recent budgets.
In April, 23 men and three female recruits graduated from the Oklahoma City Police Academy following more than 1,100 hours of training, the first class to graduate the academy since the Better Streets, Safer City bond package to fund public safety went into effect earlier this year.
75 new recruits will be starting their training Sept. 27. After more than 1,100 hours of training, the new officers will patrol the streets of Oklahoma City.
"We're really pushing to increase our numbers and get all of the positions filled that we have with the police officers so we can get more officers out on the street,” said Lt. Kristin Polanksy in the OKCPD recruiting department.
Even after the new recruits begin their training, OKCPD will still be looking to fill 75 positions and, in keeping with Chief Wade Gourley’s vision of a police force that represents the population it polices, the department is looking for diversity. To help with the effort, the department has launched a multimedia recruiting campaign called “Discover Your Calling”
"The more people we reach, the more we can get to apply and the more diversity we have on the department,” Polansky said. “We want applicants from everywhere around the city, from all different communities.”
The fire department has also benefitted from the decision of the voters, hiring 113 firefighters in 2017 and 47 in 2018. Those numbers more than account for the 57 positions of the safer city initiative, but there have been a substantial number of fire fighters retire and OKCFD is continually hiring to keep those positions filled.
Another result of the Better Streets, Safer City initiative is the replacement of two older fire stations, (Fire Station 13 and Fire Station 31) and the construction of a new two-bay Fire station 10. A new police and fire training center will also be built. This follows the construction of two new fire houses approved as part of the 2007 bond package.
Fire Station 38 and Fire Station 29 are part of a 2007 bond and public safety sales tax passed by Oklahoma voters. Money has helped the fire department improve response times to areas previously underserved.
“In this area, it is growing. And we have a lot of neighborhoods that are popping up,” said Deputy Chief Tony Davis. “So, as the city grows and become more populated, we've got to look and make sure that we have an adequate fire protection.”
Both buildings will be 8,800 square feet and will employee 22 firefighters. At least seven firefighters will be on one shift at a time.
An engine and brush truck will also be housed at both locations.