MOUNT VERNON — The use of police escorts during a funeral procession generated discussion between city and county officials Monday night.
According to City Council President John Booth, the city used to provide escorts. However, in 1987, during hard economic times when the city had to lay off workers, the city allowed the Mount Vernon Police Department to discontinue the escorts. He said that when the economic situation improved, the city did not resume the escorts.
The late former Police Chief Tom Bartlett said he would not take an officer off patrol in order to provide the escort. Booth said the agreement was that if an officer was needed elsewhere while leading a procession, the officer could divert to the more immediate situation.
“I know it takes time for the officers to do it, but I think it shows a lot of respect, too,” said Booth.
Booth said at red lights, people do not slow down. A cruiser leading the procession would be more prominent and visible to other drivers.
Councilwoman Rebecca Jordan agreed.
“People will stop if a cruiser is leading,” she said. “It’s a safety issue.”
She said funeral processions are often routed around Coshocton Avenue because of the heavy traffic.
Regarding jurisdiction in the case of a procession traveling outside city limits, the question was asked whether the Knox County Sheriff's Office would take over once the procession reached the city limits.
Mount Vernon Police Chief Mike Merrilees said he is willing to discuss the idea of funeral escorts. His concern is whether, with three officers out on the road, one would be pulled off patrol for funeral duty, or whether it would be handled as overtime duty or an extra duty assignment. He will address the issue with council at its next meeting.