Assault victim asks city council to develop a plan for 24-hour law enforcement coverage

“If your loved one was fighting for their life ... would 13 minutes be OK with you?”

Holyoke resident Lane Looka left the city council with that question to ponder at its Feb. 4 meeting. He was referencing the time it took Holyoke Police Department to respond to his radio calls for help when he was recently attacked at work.

Looka is currently a nurse practitioner at Melissa Memorial Hospital, but he started his career as a paramedic and has spent plenty of time working in inherently dangerous settings throughout his 30 years in the field. Nevertheless, he never felt as alone or scared as he did at MMH on Jan. 25.

That day at 5:45 a.m., Looka explained, a 6-foot-4-inch, 350-pound patient who was “hyped up on meth” became violent and assaulted him and the other nurses on his team. The patient was threatening the female nursing staff and attempting to get into the med-surg unit, where nine other patients were recovering from illnesses.

Looka radioed for help twice at the onset of the attack, but it was 13 minutes before HPD arrived, he told council members. During that time, he was essentially fighting off the attacker on his own to protect the other staff and patients. Even after HPD arrived, Looka had to help tackle the patient who tried to take off down the hall after being tased.

“This incident has given me great concerns regarding the safety of me and my family — and other citizens in the community,” he said. “It’s a well-known fact we’re short-staffed on the police department, and there are hours during the day that are left uncovered.”

It just so happened that the attack at MMH took place during one of those periods when there were officers on call but none on the streets.

Having shared his story, Looka asked the city council to develop a plan to have 24-hour coverage of the city so response times are not delayed in the future.

 Right now there are only three officers employed by HPD. It has long been the goal to have five officers on staff to adequately cover the community’s needs, but it has been a challenge to recruit new hires.

 

Attorney Wall to draft ordinances for council’s consideration

Two other issues addressed at last week’s city council meeting have been put on hold while the City’s attorney, Al Wall, drafts ordinances for council members’ consideration.

Reporting from the planning commission, council member Kevin Scott said that Nick Ferguson would like to develop an RV park on the south side of Furry Street between Walsh and Lewis avenues.

City superintendent Mark Brown recommended that the council work on adopting an ordinance that will outline the necessary regulations. Council members opted to table the matter until they have an ordinance from Wall.

Wall also explained that the City should adopt an ordinance regarding fireworks. Though Holyoke previously had one, it was left out of the new municipal code. Wall will draft a fireworks ordinance and present it to the council at a later meeting.

 

Officials, rec director report

Brown reported that the electric department handled one power outage Feb. 1 in the 100 block of South Worley Avenue. The department also continues work on new service in the 300 block of West Furry Street.

The water and sewer department continues to work on year-end reports for the State, rodding sewers and fixing broken meters. The street department has primarily been in the shop working on equipment.

Brown also informed council members that the card reader on the fuel system at the airport will be obsolete as of June 30. It will need to be upgraded, but Brown is looking into potential funding before moving forward.

Police Chief Doug Bergstrom reported that HPD, including code enforcement, handled or generated 304 calls for service Jan. 17-30. There were four animal complaints and five municipal code violations.

City clerk/treasurer Kathy Olofson reported that Scott Szabo will be in the office March 16-18 for the City’s 2019 audit. She also reported that the 2019 franchise fee from Black Hills Energy totaled $16,678.17, which is up $708.41 from the year before.

Recreation director Victoria Dunker reported that Holyoke is sending four first-place winners to sectionals for the Denver Nuggets Basketball Skills Challenge. The department is also hosting its annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament Monday, Feb. 17, with the Dragon Booster Club. Next up, Dunker will be getting the soccer season started.

 

Other business

In other business at the Feb. 4 meeting, city council members approved the following:

— 2019 year-end transfers.

— A purchase request for two utility boxes from Maxey Trailer Sales and Truck Fitting at $10,840 each to go on the new pickups in the electric department and the water and sewer department.

— Tastings permit application renewal for Red’s Liquors.

— A purchase request from HPD for four new Harris mobile radios for the patrol vehicles from Complete Wireless Technologies in Windsor at a total cost of $16,587.30 for radios and installation.

Phillips County emergency manager Bob Heldenbrand also attended the meeting to present council members their Salamander credential cards and to encourage them to attend the Feb. 22 recovery workshop and tabletop exercise as policy makers for the City of Holyoke.

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