Town PD Talk covers the many facets of policing
From the origins of policing to the latest technologies used by officers, much was covered in the Town PD Talk.
The recent event, which is part of the Town Talk series, involved Town and Police administration giving an in-depth look at the Police Department and how it operates.
Interim Town Manager Michael Griffin explained that the first permanent police force in the United States started in 1838 in Boston.
“So, policing is pretty old in the country here,” Griffin said.
The Merrillville Police Department isn’t nearly as old. The Town itself incorporated at the end of 1971.
“And our Police Department has been around basically since then,” Griffin said.
Merrillville Police Chief Kosta Nuses said the Police Department is budgeted for 61 sworn officers.
In 2024, the Town is planning to increase the force by adding four more officers.
“Four may not sound like a lot, but it makes a world of difference,” Nuses said. “That’s four more officers you can put on the street.”
He said the Police Department has many objectives, including preventing crime and providing safety, security, and peace.
“We are responsible not only for the residents, but we are also responsible for those visiting us, we’re responsible for those shopping here, we’re responsible for pretty much anybody who sets foot in Merrillville,” Nuses said.
The police force has several divisions in place to accomplish its goals. The most visible of which is the Patrol Division.
“We’re there to monitor and enforce any type of traffic enforcement, we’re there to discourage crime, we’re there to try and prevent crime, and we are there to handle a crime after it has been committed to catch the people that committed the crime,” Nuses said.
He said the patrol work is one of the most important aspects of policing.
“If you had no police, it would be a free-for-all on the roads,” Nuses said.
Merrillville Patrol Commander Josh Miskus said the division has a minimum of six officers working each shift to cover four districts in the Town. There are occasions in which crews will have about 10 officers working a shift.
As Miskus took questions from the audience, he was asked how the department has been handling growing issues with mental health.
Although there are limitations to the actions officers can take in situations that involve mental health, the Town is exploring the possibility of adding a social worker to the Police Department staff to assist in those instances.
Other law enforcement agencies have hired social workers, and they have experienced many positive results through those efforts.
Residents also inquired about speeding and reckless driving issues that are occurring in Merrillville.
While the problem isn’t unique to the Town, officials are taking a variety of steps to address it.
The Police Department has gathered data from digital speed signs and accident reports to develop target areas.
There has been a significant increase in traffic enforcement, and officers are making about 500 to 600 stops each month, Nuses said. The Town Council’s authorization of overtime funding has also made a difference, allowing Nuses to schedule more officers to do traffic details.
Merrillville also added speed humps to slow traffic in some areas. Those portable devices will be moved during the winter so snowplows can travel on those roads. The speed humps will be reinstalled after winter.
Merrillville also is pursuing an in-depth traffic study to develop long-lasting methods to calm traffic and promote safer driving habits in the community.
The Town PD Talk, a Ted Talk-style event, also included a presentation from Detective Commander Matt Vasel, who explained how the Detective Bureau operates.
The bureau receives about 60 cases each month. It can take anywhere from a couple of days to years to investigate cases, Vasel said.
He said about 20 percent of investigations involve violent crimes. Those situations often use a large amount of the bureau’s resources.
“One shooting or homicide can take weeks or months, and all the cases that were previously assigned to the detective take the back burner,” Vasel said.
In addition to the patrol division and detective bureau, the Police Department also has specialty units. They include the Merrillville Tactical Apprehension Squad, which is the Town’s version of a SWAT team.
Merrillville also has three school resource officers. The department’s K-9 unit has grown to four officers with four dogs, which allows for a K-9 on every patrol shift.
“These are all specialties that we need to have,” Nuses said.
The work provided by the K-9 unit was on full display during the Town PD Talk.
Officer Ian Fultz and his partner K-9 Yaga demonstrated how the K-9 unit can be instrumental in apprehending a subject.
Wearing a special bite suit, Nuses portrayed a suspect who refused to comply with Fultz. After given the command, Yaga chased Nuses and took him to the ground. And when directed, Yaga released him.
Although Yaga had just completed a brief training session involving a pursuit, the dog was quickly ready to get up close to attendees and take in some pets from the crowd.
While the services provided by the Police Department grow, so do the expenses.
Griffin said nearly half of Merrillville’s general fund is devoted to the Police Department. The department’s 2023 budget is about $5.5 million. The vast majority of the budget goes to personnel.
What can become difficult is when the Police Department encounters unplanned expenses. That can involve overtime, unexpected injuries, illnesses, tactical responses, and major investigations.
Nuses said American Rescue Plan dollars have helped tremendously. The department also uses funding generated from fees collected from reports and other services.
He also explained how grants can be a helpful resource. The department recently learned it must upgrade its radios for officers, and Merrillville received a quote of $1 million to outfit the department.“After some research and everyone talking together and everybody working together, we were able to secure a federal grant through (U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan’s) office, so we are going to be able to purchase these,” Nuses said. “If it wasn’t for that, we would be in trouble.”
Griffin also explained how property taxes are used within the Police Department.
He said for every dollar residents pay in property taxes, 20 cents go toward Merrillville government.
“Of the 20 cents, probably 5 cents, and that’s a high estimate, is for the Police Department,” Griffin said. “I wanted to show, they really are a bargain.”
Council President Rick Bella said the Town PD Talk didn’t disappoint.
“Although our turnout was modest, the audience thoroughly enjoyed the presentations, and we’re committed to continuing the Town Talk program as a means of enhancing communication with our residents,” Bella said.
Visit https://merrillville.in.gov/government/town_council/town_talk.php to learn more about the Town Talk series. Video from the PD event will be posted there when it becomes available. Visitors can also view videos from past Town Talk sessions.
Visit https://merrillvillephotos.smugmug.com/Town-Talk-Police-Department-/ to view photos from the Town PD Talk.