Staffing study finds Lawrence police short on patrol officers

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

A staffing study indicates that the Lawrence Police Department needs five additional patrol officers, potentially costing the city close to half a million dollars annually.

The police department used a staff model based on the level of public service calls, which determined that the department needed the additional officers. The staffing study was presented to the Lawrence City Commission at its work session Tuesday.

City Manager Tom Markus told commissioners that though the results of the staffing study posed a budget challenge for the city, the number of calls for service is probably one of the better metrics to use for such a determination and that using a meaningful statistic to drive staffing decisions is a good start.

“I can tell you, throughout my career, it’s always been management says this, the chief says this, and it’s kind of this tug and pull,” Markus said. “This is the introduction of real metrics to try to determine what appropriate staffing levels should be.”

The police department used a model developed by researchers at Michigan State University, entering the three-year average of the department’s calls for service hours. The department has an average of 82.9 patrol officers, according to the staffing study report. The results indicated that the department should have a minimum of 87 patrol officers.

Police Capt. Adam Heffley, who presented the staffing study to the commission, said using that particular model was most reflective of the duties of Lawrence Police Department patrol officers, who also serve investigative functions. He said he thought an emphasis on patrol-level investigation was what the community expected of the department.

“That is also where we have the ability to address property crimes, such as a car burglary or a residential burglary, cases where you typically won’t get a detective assigned,” Heffley said. “We don’t have a large contingent in our investigation division, so this is kind of how we have to operate in order to keep addressing the broken windows.”

Heffley said that to add five entry-level patrol officers would cost the city about $478,000 for the first year. Heffley said that cost included five police officers, health care, retirement and benefits. He said the department already has the patrol cars necessary.

Markus said that cost could potentially be cut in half if the police department were to move patrol officers out of jobs that could be done by civilian staff.

Capt. Anthony Brixius said hiring civilians for some jobs would result in lower costs and that, according to the benchmark city survey, the Lawrence department has low levels of civilian staff.

“We have one of the lowest levels of civilian staff of any of our comparison cities, so I think there are certainly some ways to make that up, and I believe that Chief (Gregory Burns Jr.) has those in some of his budget requests,” Brixius said.

The staffing study report states that Burns is currently working to “civilianize” several positions in the department. The report states that is a long-term project and will need to be weighed against other needs such as crime scene investigators, community engagement, the new mental health unit and the upcoming implementation of a body-camera system.

The police department is still determining which positions would be most appropriate to fill with civilians, Officer Drew Fennelly said in an email. Fennelly said some positions that have been identified include spots in evidence, crime-scene processing and information technology. He said as the department went through the budget process it would be working with City Hall to prioritize how and when those positions could be transitioned, as well as identifying any other potential positions.

“There is value to having officers in those positions at times, so each position requires a benefit analysis to identify where it stands in that priority list,” Fennelly said. “Additionally, there are cost considerations to take into account, as some spots would conceivably cost more than others to fill with a civilian.”

Markus said he was going to work with the police department to figure out the least expensive way to get closer to the 87 patrol officers that the study indicated were needed. He also said that because the staffing model was based on calls for service that addressing recidivism issues in the community to reduce calls for service could also have an impact.