WILKES-BARRE — Six city police officers were promoted Tuesday during a ceremony at City Hall, and Mayor Tom Leighton said he hopes to increase the ranks of the department to fight crime.
Leighton, with Chief Gerard Dessoye at his side, said the department now is at 75 officers, down from a one-time high of 91. Leighton said the city will advertise for civil service test applicants for police.
“Once we get those applications, we’ll look at the numbers and see what we can do,” the third-term mayor said.
In 2013, the city has seen many shootings and other violent crimes, including a rash of robberies. So far this year, there have been shootings that have resulted in nine homicide victims.
Contacted afterward, Charlotte Raup, coordinator of the city’s Crime Watch organization said the city “absolutely needs more police.” She said crime — especially violent crime — has reached an all-time high in the city.
“Safety is the number-one concern of the people,” Raup said. “The city should only apply for grants for more police.”
Raup said she talks to city police officers all the time and said they have been working far too many overtime hours.
“That puts a strain on them,” she said. “They get burned out and stressed out.”
Raup said all crime is up — burglaries, home invasions, car break-ins. She said with the recent retirements of several officers, the city should move to hire replacements as soon as possible.
Leighton and Dessoye are aware of the numbers crunch and both said they are hoping to replenish the ranks.
“We want to see how many we can hire,” Leighton said. “We’re looking at the numbers now so when the applications come in we will be ready to decide what to do.”
Dessoye said his department is effective with 75, but with more officers it could be more effective.
“I don’t know of a police chief anywhere who wouldn’t want more officers in his department,” Dessoye said. “And people want more police, but I realize we’re expensive. People want more police until you don’t pick up their garbage. It’s up to the mayor to find a way to hire more police without cutting back other services.”
Leighton said the department has recently been restructured to two divisions: Operations and Investigations. He said the Operations Division, led by Cmdr. Robert Hughes, consists of several units, including patrol, records training, and emergency services. Cmdr. Joseph Coffay leads the Investigations Division, which is composed of anti-crime task force, criminal and evidence/property units.
“These individuals will play a vital role in the Operations and Investigations divisions,” Dessoye said. “Their years of experience will prove to be an asset for the city of Wilkes-Barre and their respective divisions.”
Leighton congratulated the six officers.
“I’d also like to compliment each of them on their years of service and look forward to them working hand-in-hand with our officers in the police department to combat crime,” he said.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, who attended the ceremony, congratulated and commended “the Wilkes-Barre Police Department for its hard work. The city department is the most professional department I have dealt with, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of you.”