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What caught the attention of the Paris City Council on Monday night as Police Chief Bob Hundley gave an annual report of his department via a PowerPoint presentation was the number of police officers who stay in Paris for awhile, then leave to join law enforcement agencies elsewhere.
Hundley said 118 employees came through the police department from 2004 through 2013. Of those 118, 52 of those, he said, “were what I call operational police officers — guys who have been hired, they’ve been trained. Of those 52 officers, 15 of those honorably retired. But that still leaves us with two officers who were terminated, 35 officers who left us and went to other law enforcement entities or the private sector.”
“Employee retention is an issue not only because of the amount of money we spend each year on getting these people trained — up to speed as a police officer,” Hundley said.
“That money is lost when one of them leaves us. Now, that’s one thing that we lose, but the main thing is your experience level. The more street time you have, the more street experience you have, the better investigator you are, the better officer you are. And once we start losing these folks, we lose that experience and we’re starting off with rookies all over again.”
Dr. Richard Grossnickle, who represents Council District 4, asked: “What do you need to limit the number of officers who leave to join other forces? Higher Salaries? Better benefits? What?”
Hundley: “You don’t have to go far to see the problem. Greenville Police Department starts out with a five-year officer at $56,000 a year. We top out at $46,000. Larry Wright (Paris fire chief) is in the same position. We’re far enough away from the metroplex, that we don’t really compete with them. In the police service, and the fire service and EMS as well, there are higher salaries for these folks, and the problems that we’re having in addition to losing these folks is that we’re not attracting anybody to this particular business, and that’s not just here, that’s everywhere. That’s what it comes down to.”
Mayor AJ Hashmi: “The people that do stay here, they could go to Greenville or elsewhere, why do they stay?”
Hundley: “Most of them will have some kind of a root system here in Paris. Now, I’m not going to challenge the idea that the cost of living in Paris is cheaper than the cost of living in Mesquite, there’s no doubt about that. A lot of the people that ahve stayed here for awhile are from here, or they have family here, or they want a rural life instead of a city life. Where we’re losing our officers is three years through six years of service. We lost four officers that work at The Colony. Where our guys and ladies will take four to six offense reports in a shift, The Colony may take one or two a week.
District 3 Councilman John Wright: “During the interview process, do you look for a profile of people that are likely to stay here?”
Hundley: “The short answer is, no sir, we don’t.”
Hashmi: “Do you feel if people have a rotating job in the police department, that they have to move from one section to another section to another section, would that make the job more attractive, rather than being a patrolman and staying a patrolman, and wanting to leave? Is there some way to make it more attractive by moving people around?”
Hundley: “The best I can answer that is, I’m trying to manage the funds that you give me the best way I possibly can. And when I get a guy that’s going to go into the investigation division, I’m going to spend a lot of money training him, getting him trained up to be what he needs to be. If he stays a couple of years and gains that experience, working crime scenes and that kind of thing, even thoguh I may be taking a junior officer and making him better, putting him in CID (criminal investigation department), I’m taking a seasoned officer — a good guy, a good investigator — and putting him back to patrol. And so, if I move one up, I’m moving one down, if you will. We’ve got officers who have been in patrol for 10 or 12 years, and that’s what they want to do. We have a warrant officer position that we rotate, we rotat the PIO (public information officer), we rotate the Community Orientation officers. So we do have some places that we move around. because people can get stale and need to do something else.”
Hashmi: “Another question I have is, do we do exit interviews?”
Hundley: Yes, sir.
Hashmi: “Is it just finances that makes people move?”
Hundley: “That’s part of it. They can make more money somewhere else. The other part of it is, they’re tired of police work. Some of them say, I’m done with law enforcement, I don’t want to be in this business anymore. The ones that are going to departments in other towns are going because of more money and less work.”
The police chief said the department is now fully staffed, as far as roster spots, “But right now we’re operating with one officer on military deployment, one officer on injury leave, two officers who are still in Field Training Program, and one officer still in the Basic Peace Officer Academy. So although we’re fully staffed, we’re still five people short.”
“We are working through some supervisory position changes,” Hundley said.
“You remember we changed some titles of positions here a while back. We’re going to work through these changes by attrition, and our goal is one supervisor for about every seven officers. Our problem is that in our services division, i’ve got two guys who are supervising 22 employees. That’s just too heavy for two guys to be doing. Our goal is to staff each patrol shift with at least eight officers and a supervisor, and retaining officers will allow us to reduce overtime and at the same time provide more of what i call preventative patrol.”
Hundley said he hopes the department will be able to return to having a narcotics unit, in which some officers are assigned solely to narcotics investigations.
“Also a Traffic Unit. Even though our accidents were down a little bit this past year, I am of the firm belief that the more traffic law enforcement you have, the less accidents you have. That’s important especially when you look at the injuries and fatalities,” he said.
“We’re going into our fourth year of a Community Orientation grant, but that will end in 2015. This work is very important to us because it provides officers the time to work on neighborhood problems instead of just coming by, making a report, making an arrest. These guys can work a little bit longer and actually try to solve the problems that created the call in the first place.”
“The biggest expense of the police department other than personnel is our life cycle replacement of patrol vehicles. Once these cars get 90,000 to 100,000 miles, it hampers us as we try to respond to emergency situations or to quickly get from one place to another. We also get a life cycle replacement of bullet-resistant vests. We do that with a 50/50 federal grant,” Hundley said.
“One thing that we’ve been talking about and asking for is providing for the officer equipment. When we hire a guy and he comes to work for us, he has to provide his own sidearm, utility belt and related duty equipment. We furnish the rest — the uniform, a vest, a stick and a can of OC spray. Anything else, they have to provide themselves, and that’s an outlay of about $1,000,” he said.
the police department has completed a transition to P-25 compliant communications equipment required of all departments within the city by 2015, he said. “But in dispatch, we still have analog controls, so at some point in time those units will become about 12 years old and we’ll have to replace those.”
“There’s an anomaly in our calls for service and our arrests last year. Total calls for service are down several thousand calls from the average of the previous three years. We averaged about 49,000 calls a year from 2010 through 2012, and this past year we were a little less than 44,000 calls,” he said.
“The arrests were also down slightly. We had 150 fewer arrests than we did in 2012. The good news is that there were 62 fewer juvenile arrests. anytime you’re not getting kids involved in the criminal justice system, that’s a good thing.”
Motor vehicle crashes — accidents — also were down last year.
“If you look at a four-year trend of the top reported crimes — murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, theft and auto theft — in the past three years they’ve been on a steady decline, while the clearance rate is going up. As you’ll see, the clearance rate has risen from 16 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2012,” Hundley said.
“We’re still in the Texas Police Chief’s Association Best Practices Recognition Program. We’ll be going through our recertification in 2016. This is not just a rubber stamp of what we’re doing. We have to prove that we’re following our policies. That’s the reason it’s the best practices, and we just become a better, more professional department because of that. Even now, we attained our status of being recognized in 2012, we were the 62nd police department in the state of Texas to get that, there are only about 93 now.”
“We have made some very good progress in Animal Control, and the main reason is we have a very good relationship with the Lamar County Humane Association. They’re helping out a great deal with adoptions and rescues,” Hundley told the council.
“As of 2013, of the 4,446 animals that came into the animal shelter, the number that were rescued and adopted was about 1,600. That gets us to a no-kill of about 38 percent. For a city-run animal shelter, 38 percent is up and coming.”
Another thing that has improved dramatically is cleanliness of the animal shelter, Hundley said. “It just takes manpower.”
If someone comes into the animal shelter, looking for a dog, “and it stinks, you’re not going to hang around. I assure you that we’ve made some very good strides with animal control. Animal control responds to cleanliness, and that’s what we’ve been working on. It’s not a fragrant rose, but it’s tremendously better than it was, you know, a year ago.”
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra