Lawrence Police Department hoping to hire 19 this spring to prepare for high ‘anomaly’ of officer retirement
The Lawrence Police Department is seeking around $1 million from the city to hire 17 more officers this month than the maximum currently allowed.
The request is in anticipation for what Police Chief Tarik Khatib called in a city memo an “unprecedented number of retirements” expected in the next four years. The police department is currently two short of the 152 staff it’s allowed to have, and it wants to hire 19 people this spring to start a nine-month training process. The over-hire is estimated to cost between $644,396 to $1,267,061, depending on how many people leave this year and how many qualified applicants are found.
The police department has increased its end-strength from 140 in 2003 to 152 today — too little of an addition to keep up with “the increased workload, complexity, technology challenges and community expectations,” the memo from Khatib and Police Capt. Anthony Brixius states.
“It may be additionally detrimental to department operations and service levels to allow the department to enter an under-authorized strength state,” the memo reads.
When they graduate from the academy and field training, the officers hired now would replace the 15 to 20 total expected to leave this year.
Bryan Kidney, the city’s finance director, said the City Commission will be asked Tuesday to establish a line-item budget with city reserves, giving the police department the extra funding — up to $1,267,061 — as the department needs it.
“We want to be up in the force we think we need to be at,” Kidney said. “What it boils down to is paying for the recruit to be in the academy and trained and ready to hit the street when we need them.”
‘Dramatic increase’ in retirees
From 2003 through 2015, an average of 8.5 people left the police department each year, either because they retired, were terminated or resigned. Over the past six years, about 10 of the total 49 people who left did so because they were retiring.
Now, the police department is expecting a “dramatic increase” in retirements as more officers become eligible. At least part of the reason behind the increase was the hire of 27 officers in 1991, 19 of whom remain on the force.
Two officers retired this month, five more are planning to retire in June and one more in December. Five others could retire in 2016 but haven’t said whether they would.
The retirements, plus another seven on average who leave for other reasons, would mean a loss of 19 people in 2016.
If the City Commission doesn’t approve the over-hire, the police department could have a force of 144 by 2017 with not enough officers graduating from this year’s academy to replace them.
Khatib and Brixius listed threats to the department if that were to happen, including concerns about officer and public safety, an increase in overtime pay and a cutback in the type of crimes the department investigates.
“Time-intensive minor crimes would be triaged as non-investigatory,” the memo reads. “This may increase minor crimes as repeat offenders would not be identified or prosecuted.”
The memo says there would be a reduction in “community policing” activities and “general public interaction,” which “may lead to community and police falling out of touch.” Police may also have to stop their funeral escort services, leading to the “perception of lack of sympathy on the part of the city.”
A stagnation in the number of personnel and a large number of vacancies created in 2009 have already caused a cutback in services, the memo states. There are fewer officers assigned to certain units; the 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. shift is lightly staffed; and there’s “very little” investigation of property and financial crimes. Also, tasks not related to crime solving, such as event management, are paid for through overtime.
History of over-hiring
The city has approved over-hires the past three years: eight in 2013, another eight in 2014 and 10 in 2015. The memo states the cost of those hires was between $146,730 and $373,098 per year. However, the department didn’t request a separate budget, and so it’s hard to know the true cost, Kidney said.
“The chief comes in and requests a certain number, based on their projections,” Kidney said of the process. “This year, it happens to be more than they’ve typically had.”
The cost of hiring the extra people to go through the academy could be toward the higher end of the department’s estimates if fewer people leave the department than it’s expecting.
Kidney said the $1,267,061 would be “worst case scenario” — if the department over-hired and the number of people expected to leave didn’t.
“Between the fact that they’re comfortable in their attrition estimate, plus we’re hiring people at a much lower pay than what’s being replaced, it’s conservative,” Kidney said.
The cost of bringing on each new officer is expected to be $74,553 — $44,042 in base salary plus benefits and outfitting. Recruits are paid for the time they’re in training.
The police department wants to extend offers to new recruits by the end of March. The 25-week academy starts in June, and it’s followed by 15 weeks of field training. The recruits would be released from training at this time next year, and they’d be working on a probationary status for six months.
The police department is asking that if commissioners don’t approve the request Tuesday, they choose one of three other methods to replace the people leaving this year.
One option given is to hire experienced officers, as needed, who would not have to go through the academy. Another option is to start up another academy immediately following the one that ends in November, instead of doing only one nine-month session per year. A third option is to fund incentives to delay some officers from retiring.
The department is also asking that a line-item budget be created in future years so the department can plan to over-hire approximately 10 positions each year.
The City Commission meets at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.