The Altus City Council on Tuesday night approved the execution of a revised Memorandum of Understanding between the city prosecutor, Altus Municipal Court, Altus Police Department and the Altus Air Force Base 97th Security Forces Squadron, 97th Air Mobility Wing Staff Judge Advocate in regard to those alcohol-related offenses and certain other offenses.
In September 1997, the city prosecutor and the police department entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the base, however with the arrival of the new base commander, Col. Carlton Everhart, and staff judge advocate, Lt. Col. Jerry A. Villarreal, negotiations to “tweak” the agreement have been ongoing.
City Attorney Catherine Coke said Tuesday that since 1997 the city has dealt with only about 10 cases involving airmen but that the military needs to know “that they don't just misbehave off base.”
Villarreal explained that the 97th Security Forces Squadron works to maintain a “tight grip” on the conduct of the young airmen, many of whom come from all parts of the country. “Our goal to prevent alcohol-related and other types of incidents from occurring both on the base and off the base is just a good way to grab their attention and let them know that good behavior is expected 24 hours a day, whether they're on base or not,” Villarreal said.
As for the memorandum itself, Villarreal said, “It's a mechanism for not having to specifically request every case every time,” adding that should the city prosecutor choose to retain a particular case, then jurisdiction would go to the city.
Councilman Don Johnson objected to the fact that the Air Force Base does not have authority to suspend the driving privileges of airmen who are found to have driven under the influence. Coke, however, explained that the state Department of Public Safety does take away licenses of anyone who either refuses to take a breathalyzer or blood test or who tests above the legal limit.
Villarreal went on to say that the majority of cases involving airmen are first time offenses. But, he said, “If there appears to be a pattern, that would be part of our communication. We would say, you know, this is not the first occasion; perhaps this is not a case to come back to the base.”
Councilman Jerry Don Henry, who cast the only opposition vote, said he was concerned that no written record of convictions processed on base would exist in the city archives. “Why would we want to take an officer off the street to book this person and do all the paperwork and then turn it over to the base?” Henry asked.
Coke then explained that jurisdiction under the memorandum would be determined on a case-by case basis.
Altus Police Chief Mike Patterson emphasized that “This is not a huge problem, the Air Force Base ... DUIs,” adding that he does not want anybody to get the idea that Air Force members are getting an excessive amount of DUIs. “It's quite rare, it really is,” Patterson said.
In other action, the council:
- approved the new job description of assistant to the chief of police. Former assistant police chief Mike Howeth was appointed to the new position Friday.
- approved a contract with the Fraternal Order of Police #120 retroactively to July 1.
- approved a two-step increase for the city airport director.
In comments following the meeting, City Administrator Mike Nettles announced that the second phase of Falcon Road work has been approved and that Altusans will soon be seeing “significant road improvements” along Falcon as well as other road projects in the works.