PD faces staffing shortage

Police Chief robert Bridge

BEEVILLE – City Council members listened to Police Chief Robert J. Bridge explain when they met on Sept. 24 the reasons that his department is understaffed.

The problem he cited is that the Beeville Police Department is having difficulty in keeping young officers.

Bridge explained the problem in detail in a three-page letter he sent to City Manager Joe B. Montez on Sept. 9.

In the letter, the chief said that Councilman Brian Watson had requested the explanation.

The chief reported the BPD had lost two officers over disciplinary problems, and four other officers left the department to go to work with the Beeville Independent School District after that entity created its own police department.

Another supervisor had resigned to address family problems, and two officers had left the BPD for higher-paying positions with departments in neighboring counties.

In addition, two other officers had left the department for personal reasons, and another sergeant had left for a higher-paying position in the oil field.

One prospective officer failed the Victoria College Law Enforcement Academy because of poor grades.

Bridge said his department operates with one assistant chief, two lieutenants, four detectives, four sergeants with one in the testing phase and 14 patrol officers.

He noted that means the department is functioning with eight vacancies.

Bridge said that one other officer was scheduled to leave the department just days after last week’s meeting.

One of the problems with filling the vacancies is that hiring a new police officer is not a short term process.

Bridge said civil service mandates a number of steps be taken in selecting new police officers.

Those steps include:

• A written exam.

• A physical ability exam.

• A thorough background check that takes some time to complete.

• A psychological exam.

• A drug test.

Applicants who pass those examinations and investigations will then be enrolled in the Victoria College Law Enforcement Academy, a training program which requires about five months to complete.

New officers then have to complete a field training program after they go on duty here before they are allowed to operate a patrol vehicle on their own.

“The process can take up to one year from the date of the written exam,” the chief said.

Currently the BPD has three officers in the program with one undergoing the field training and two attending the police academy.

The academy cadets are scheduled to graduate in mid-December, and their field training here should be completed by the middle of April next year.

Those candidates have completed their written examinations and physical ability tests. Their extensive background investigations are still ongoing.

Bridge said the tentative date for their actual hiring is in early January 2020.

“On several occasions, I have been asked if civil service is hindering the hiring process,” he said.

“Civil service does restrict certain practices such as employing officers over the age of 45. But overall benefits of civil service far outweigh the negatives,” Bridge told the council.

He then outlined some of the reasons that the BPD keeps losing officers. He said the reasons are current as of Sept. 17 of this year.

Reasons for departure

“Our officers start at $41,163 a year, or $19.79 per hour,” Bridge said.

Live Oak County Sheriff’s Office’s beginning salary is $45,947.20 or $22.09 an hour. Plus they are scheduled for a 10 percent pay increase in October.

The Alice Police Department begins at $38,000 up to $45,000, or $18.26 per hour up to $21.63 per hour.

The sheriff’s office in DeWitt County starts deputies at $42,910 or $20.63 an hour. Deputies there also receive step increases.

The Kingsville Police Department begins their cadets in training at $18.75 an hour, and they also receive step increases up to 15 years. Hourly pay for KPD officers tops out at $22.41.

Recommendations

1. Create a step increase program for the officers as an incentive to remain employed. A step increase could consist of pay increments at two, four and six years.

2. Increase the clothing allowance and field training officer pay. An FTO has the tremendous responsibility of training young recruits and should be compensated appropriately. Detectives should receive a clothing allowance so they can be required to wear a shirt and tie.

3. Implement certificate pay for officers who earn higher certifications. Police officers in Texas start out with the basic certification, but they may earn intermediate, advanced and master’s certifications.

“I have a masters’ certification,” Bridge said.

4. Consider eliminating a position and use those funds to increase pay and fund some incentive pay ideas.

5. Coincide the entry level testing dates with the graduation dates of the Victoria Police Academy and Del Mar College Police Academy.

6. Consider a plan for moving to 12-hour shifts for the BPD’s Patrol Division. Bridge said that would require a change in the pay period schedule, and it would also allow for officers to earn some overtime pay while providing better coverage for the city.

The chief said detectives from the BPD’s Criminal Investigation Division also have been used to provide additional manpower on patrol when shortages have occurred because of sickness or vacations.

Bridge told councilmen he intends to look into one other option for filling vacancies.

That would mean bypassing a civil service regulation which prevents police departments from hiring officers who are over the age of 45.

The chief said there are a number of men and women in communities who have law enforcement experience who are still physically able to handle the job and who would take a position with a department if they could.

Allowing for that would require the department to hold a “meet and confer” session between the BPD and Beeville Police Association.

The BPA is the collective bargaining organization for city officers. The two sides could agree to bypass the civil service rule that prohibits hiring officers over the age of 45.

Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.