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Texas department seeks to boost staffing

The Odessa Police Department asked the city manager for eight more officers and increased pay for crime technicians and recruits in a preliminary budget submitted this week

By Corey Paul
Odessa American, Texas

ODESSA, Texas — The Odessa Police Department asked the city manager for eight more officers and increased pay for crime technicians and recruits in a preliminary budget submitted this week, reflecting an effort to bring staff to healthier levels amid a general increase in crime and heavy call loads.

The request for eight new officers is double usual requests, but it still asks for less than the chief's ideal staff of two officers for every thousand residents.

Police Chief Tim Burton and City Manager Richard Morton have already explained the reasoning behind incremental hiring: They worry about overloading the police department with salaries the city can't afford and officers the OPD doesn't have the staff to train.

Nonetheless, Burton said, the eight new officers — at a projected cost of $528,304, including benefits — should make the department a force more capable of proactive policing and create a more robust traffic division.

"It's very realistic," Burton said. "Assuming you are able to meet that number of budgeted positions with actual employees."

And thus the question remains about how the department will fill the 20-or-so vacant positions for sworn officers as it struggles with turnover and recruitment. The chief takes a similar approach in luring recruits and new crime techs that the sheriff recently took to combat jailer shortages:
Asking to bump up their pay to that of starting officers. Base pay for a police officer is $46,104. For both positions that's an increase of more than 60 percent. Right now, a starting Odessa crime tech makes about $700 less a month than one in Midland.

Still, base pay of a police officer pales in comparison to what an able-bodied, drug-free man can make in the oil field. The budget doesn't address pay raises across the department (and they typically don't) but the City Council commissioned a study this week that will, exploring pay increases citywide.

The OPD struggles with a call-load-per-officer ratio that exceeds those of benchmark cities and many major metropolitan areas. That includes a general increase in crimes such as burglaries, auto thefts and assaults as well as surging traffic accidents.

Including one-time and ongoing supplemental requests, the budget amounts to about a $3 million increase from the one approved last year. Most of that money is because of a $2.17 million one-time supplement for a vehicle storage facility the OPD says it needs to house its SWAT and bomb squad operations. Planning for that project has been at least a year in the works.

The chief and city leaders are already meeting to discuss the budget Morton will submit to the City Council in August, according to city spokesperson Andrea Goodson. Around that time, Morton will also propose raises. The police department is the city's most costly, per usual.

If granted, Burton's staffing request would bring the department's total sworn to 190 officers. Based on the most recent census count, Burton would need another 10 officers to meet his goal. 
That doesn't account for growth since.

In support of this request, Burton cited the loss of one 9-year veteran technician to a department that didn't require her specialized training in cell phone data recovery but nonetheless offered a wage the city couldn't match. The Crime Scene Unit is down three technicians, one of whom intends to become a police officer with the department. The total cost of the requested increase for the CSU would be about $161,000.

Because of a general shortage and turnover, lesser experienced officers are becoming detectives, Burton writes, so the department requests $30,000 for training.

Those appear the biggest takeaways after an initial Odessa American review of the $23.21 million general fund budget request, publicly released on Friday (including supplementary funds, it's a $26.87 million request).

Some of the noteworthy requests:

— Two K-9s need to be replaced at a total cost of $24,000: One, named Kevin, is 10-years-old now and ready for his retirement. Another, named Andor, suffers from a tooth problem that will render his bite unsuitable for police work. The OPD also asks for handler training at a cost of $4,350.

— A 2013 Chevrolet Silverado to allow the Crime Scene Unit to transport evidence to local DPS labs and retrieve large items, at a cost of $30,950.

— Animal Control supplies to meet a new law requiring animal euthanasia by injection, at a cost of $6,623. Animal control also requests four new freezers worth a total $3,000, a $10,000 fence to protect livestock and eight tranquilizer guns to replace others at a total cost of $4,680 among several upkeep items.

— Sixty-one cameras for patrol officers at a total cost of $4,819.

— Interfaces between the new records management system being implemented, Motorola Premier One, and third party databases the department uses, at a cost of $151,919.

— A forensic video computer for the Special Operations Bureau that investigators could use to enhance surveillance video and other video evidence, at a cost of $25,000.

— For the SWAT team: seven ballistic vests for the SWAT team at a total cost $6,678. Less-than-lethal munitions at a total cost of $9,089. Night vision and accessories for sniper rifles at a cost of $45,460. And gas masks at a total cost of $28,110.

Copyright 2013 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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