Local public safety officers step up when vice president drops in

When Vice President Mike Pence returns to his hometown for a visit, public safety officers are waiting — not to greet him, but to protect him.

That commitment comes at a cost, the result being overtime for the Columbus Police Department, the Columbus Fire Department and the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department. All three have assisted during each of Pence’s three visits to Columbus this year.

The most recent was Oct. 20, when the vice president arrived at the Columbus Municipal Airport on Air Force 2 to attend his son’s weekend wedding at Brown County State Park.

Pence had also flown into Columbus Municipal Airport the morning of May 28 to attend the Indianapolis 500, then spent time from late afternoon to early evening with his family in Columbus. In addition, Pence made at least one trip to Columbus by car after appearing in Anderson for a Sept. 22 public event.

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Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said visits by the vice president require coordination of shared responsibilities among local police and fire units.

“It’s very hard for one department to handle all the requests,” Myers said. “We all have different specialties … and we try to coordinate on a daily basis.”

Myers said the sheriff department’s role has varied, from providing security to traffic detail along the vice president’s travel route through Columbus for family visits. The vice president’s mother, Nancy Pence Fritsch, and other family members still live in Columbus.

The sheriff estimated his department has incurred nearly $5,000 in overtime during the Pence visits, trying to keep costs down by adjusting shifts and changing days off to cover for officers who are working on the vice president’s detail.

“We’re going to do what we can to assist them,” Myers said. “That’s part of having a vice president from your community.”

Adjusting overtime accounts

Pence’s visits so far and the likelihood of additional ones are among reasons the city is seeking to increase its police and fire department overtime budgets by $70,000.

The city is seeking an additional $40,000 to cover overtime for the fire department and $30,000 for the police department. That’s on top of $390,388 in public-safety overtime that had been approved previously for all of 2017.

The $70,000 request, given initial approval by the city council Nov. 21, comes up for a second and final vote during tonight’s 6 p.m. council meeting at City Hall. The $70,000 being sought would be transferred from police and fire personnel budgets, meaning that the city is moving money around to cover potential overtime costs, city finance director Jamie Brinegar said.

City police officers can build up compensatory time and then take paid time off later date at their discretion, Brinegar said. The city also has an ordinance allowing officers to convert compensatory time to overtime hours if they wish, he said.

Previously, Mayor Jim Lienhoop has said about half of the requested amount was associated with past or anticipated costs related to Pence visits.

The money transfer would make sure the city is adequately covered in potential overtime through the end of the year, Police Chief Jon Rohde said.

“We’re just planning for the worst-case scenario for what we’ve asked for,” Rohde said.

Citing confidentiality and security concerns, Rohde said he couldn’t specify how many officers work during Pence’s visits or what their duties are. However, he did say the police department incurred about $2,000 in overtime for each of Pence’s three visits to Columbus this year.

Fire Chief Mike Compton also declined to discuss specifics on the number of personnel dedicated each time the vice president is in town. However, he said the department has discussions with the Secret Service to determine what type of assistance it can provide.

When Air Force 2 is on the Columbus Municipal Airport tarmac, the department has a truck and crew inside the gate of the airport in front of the terminal, Compton said. However, he said the agency doesn’t monitor the plane’s presence on the tarmac, noting that responsibility is left to the Secret Service, which oversees all security details.

Also, the city fire department remains on standby in case of an accident involving the vice president’s motorcade, Compton said.

“We’re accommodating and we try to do as much as we can for them,” Compton said.

Pence’s visit over Memorial Day weekend has been the only scenario where the fire department incurred overtime, although Compton said he didn’t immediately know what that amount was.

“We don’t monitor that regularly,” he said.

Brinegar said the $40,000 in overtime being sought by the fire department is due primarily to the unexpected retirements of four firefighters and cover for three firefighters on military training leave.

Any money in the overtime account that isn’t spent by the end of the year will be placed back into the city’s general fund reserves, Brinegar said.

What's next

The Columbus City Council will vote for a second and final time on whether to increase the public-safety overtime accounts by $70,000 through the end of the year. The measure was first approved in a 6-0 vote Nov. 21. Tonight’s meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com