LYNCHBURG, Va. – There’s concern for people in the Hill City after many woke up Tuesday morning to learn a police shortage could mean longer wait times for help.
Lynchburg Police Chief Ryan Zuidema says they’re seeing a greater demand for services, with fewer officers to meet those demands.
The department has 28 vacancies to fill.
“It’s real concerning for the whole community to be honest with you,” Chuck Southard says.
“Uncomfortable, I’d say that’s something to worry about,” Dalton Womble adds.
Police say the rise in emergency calls stems from a mental health crisis, and can leave officers tied up for hours, even days.
“Our officers have been burdened with significant challenges with meeting all the mental health calls in our city. So, it’s taking a longer amount of time. Our officers are on those calls longer and so obviously it doesn’t make those resources available for other calls in the city,” Zuidema says.
The department is making staffing changes so they can have enough answers to get to high-priority 911 calls. This includes moving traffic safety units and intelligence to patrol.
However, police say it’s going to take them longer to get to other calls.
“I’m worried about it,” Herman Petty says. “You don’t know when something is going to happen, so we need to support our police department.”
“Where people will see the difference is non-emergency calls for service. A lot of property crime like larceny from vehicles and stuff like that it’s going to take longer for our officers to get there,” Zuidema says.
As police try to bring more officers in, they’re training with mental health services.
“I hope things get better, but we’re living in uncertain times,” Southard says.