Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib says the department in recent years has been trying to juggle too many things.
He’s working on a plan to get back more to the basics as he moves some officers with specialty assignments back to patrolling the streets. That includes two school resource officers and three traffic unit officers.
“Having a well-trained, well-equipped and well-resourced patrol response is critical for the health and safety of the community because no matter what’s occurring at any given moment, patrol is the first to respond to it,” said Khatib, who has said since he took over as chief in February 2011 that the department needs more officers.
City leaders agreed to add four officer positions this year and three more as part of the 2013 budget. By the end of the year Khatib also plans to shift officers from other areas of the department back into patrol assignments.
The department has reduced its school resource officers from six to four, and in December Khatib plans to fold the department’s traffic unit, which has three positions, back into patrol as well.
He wants to see how the plan works.
“We’re going to do the best we possibly can to make patrol, that initial response and that core service that everybody interacts with, the best possible given what we have,” he said.
School, traffic officer changes
As classes started this week, two police officers now are assigned to each of the city’s two public high schools as school resource officers. Those same four officers also have an additional assignment to cover one middle school each. Before, the department assigned one resource officer to each high school and middle school as part of the city-funded program.
Khatib did not replace two officers whose school assignments recently ended, and they have returned to patrol.
“It’s fair to say that we’re disappointed that we reduced the number of school resource officers. We find them to be very valuable in our schools,” said Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll, who acknowledged police communicated with the district about the change. “But I also understand the economic realities of trying to staff an entire city’s police department.”
Doll said part of the change, having two officers in each high school, could be positive. The high schools grew by several hundred students when the district recently added ninth-graders to the buildings. School resource officers take police reports for incidents in the schools, but they also teach classes and offer students an opportunity to have positive interactions with officers.
The superintendent said the program has been successful. Lawrence recently received the school district of the year award from the Kansas Juvenile Officers Association for its collaboration with the department, and Officer Myrone Grady received the 2011 Kansas School Resource Officer of the Year award for his work at South Middle School. Grady will still cover South, and his office will now be at Lawrence High School.
The core functions of the department’s traffic unit also will be covered because the three officers can still be deployed to help investigate and map serious accidents.
Patrol officers will take on other functions, such as running radar guns, and the department will continue special saturation patrols when state funds are available for overtime, Khatib said.
The restructuring could allow for assignments when calls are busiest. For instance, Khatib said the department could more easily deploy extra officers early on Saturdays and Sundays to try to stop drunken drivers or other crimes. Or a team of officers could focus on specific problems, such as a recent string of aggravated burglaries.
“It may allow us to be more proactive,” Khatib said.
The department in 1999 had 80 positions assigned to patrol, and by 2011 that had reduced by one, mainly because any staffing additions came in other areas, including detectives, school resource officers, neighborhood resource officers, traffic and other support positions.
“All of our staff shortages have been historically manifested at the patrol level,” Khatib said. “We have kept filling special assignment slots at the expense of patrol operations.”
With increases the last two city budgets and Khatib’s reorganization plan, the department by December would be at 91 patrol positions. Obviously, vacancies exist in some positions because of retirements, medical leave and other reasons.
In his advocacy for more resources, he has said the ideal situation would be 96 patrol positions. Khatib has also asked for more resources for the specialized positions, and he’s hopeful for the future.
“We have to get back to the basics of doing the basic patrol function as best as possible,” Khatib said, “and then build upon that solid base.”