Police Chief Asks for More Officers- Says Department Overworked and Understaffed

July 7, 2008
Dwayne Page

Smithville Police Chief Richard Jennings, saying his department is understaffed and over worked, came before the Mayor and Aldermen Monday night asking that two additional certified officers be hired.

Chief Jennings says the city's policy of having the officers work 12 hour shifts, as opposed to 8 hour shifts, is increasing the workload on officers and creating a lot of overtime.

According to Chief Jennings, funds are in the budget to hire one other officer, a position which has remained unfilled since last summer. He says a second additional officer could be hired to fill officer Callie Matthews position while she remains on unpaid medical leave. "The bottom line is, I'm understaffed. When the prior chief left, there was one full time slot left unfilled. I have another officer out on medical leave and that leaves me with another slot. I'm asking the board to approve the advertising for two full time officers. One full time officer would fill the slot that was never filled when the prior chief left. The other would come in for a temporary position to work in Matthews' place until such time as she may be able to come back to work. If she is able to come back to work, that officer would understand he would have to give up that position so she could come back and take the position as road officer. If Ms. Matthews, for whatever reason, is unable to come back to work, then that position would be offered to that person full time. The addition of those two officers would improve the operation of my department, cut down on the long hours, extra hours the officers have to work, and it's better to pay straight time to people of about twelve dollars than it is to pay overtime to officers that are employed here which runs into eighteen to twenty five dollars an hour."

Mayor Taft Hendrixson admits the overtime issue is a concern but says the police officers he has talked to prefer 12 hour shifts, and that most of the law enforcement agencies in the area also work on 12 hour shifts. Plus, he says when an officer is out, the chief and investigator should take up the slack. "Last year we spent in the neighborhood of $60,000 or $70,000 for overtime. We can't continue going on doing that. We do work 12 hour shifts in the police department and about all the departments I know of around us do. And everyone of the officers I've talked to like this because one week they'll work three days a week, one week they'll work four days. One week they work 36 hours, one week they work 48 hours. In all departments, you may have somebody out sick but we have a chief and an investigator that I think they should fill in when an officer is out. I think that is part of it as road officers."

Chief Jennings says both he and Detective Sergeant Jerry Hutchins, Jr. are willing to fill in for others but he believes the investigator should spend his time trying to solve crimes. "We have one chief, one investigator, and nine road officers, but one of them (Matthews) is out on medical leave. That leaves just enough officers to cover the shifts. In the event that an officer is out, my investigator fills in. In the event my officers get backed up on calls during the day, dispatch calls me and I go out and help out. I'm available to come in during any emergency situation, day or night. It makes no difference. I have one part time officer who helps out but he can only work 20 hours per week because he's not certified. The investigator works (as road officer) when he's asked, but crimes are increasing continuously and his job is to investigate crimes. When he works a 12 hour shift, he cannot do that. He has solved a lot of cases but it impairs his ability to do investigations when he has to work 12 hour shifts as a road officer."

Jennings says before he took over as chief, the city had one chief, ten road officers, one investigator, one part time officer, and one school traffic guard and the officers worked eight hour shifts. " Before I took over as chief we were only working eight hours but when the prior police chief left several officers left with him and left the department short handed. They went to 12 hour shifts because they were really short on personnel. We have enough officers now to fill the 12 hour shifts but that's if nobody is out sick or nobody has to be off. But as you know that is not a possibility. We're going to be out, we're going to have overtime, people are going to be sick, they're going to be off for various reasons, vacation, sick days, and sometimes they have personal problems and have to be off. So you really don't know from one week to the next exactly what kind of situation you're going to run into. It's a situation that you deal with daily."

Chief Jennings added that when an officer is overworked it can affect his safety and job performance which could lead to accidents and increased liability to the city. " Let's say an officer works at six o'clock at night to six in the morning. He has to go to court at nine o'clock. He sits in court from nine a.m. until two or three in the afternoon, then he's got to come back at six that night and work until six the next morning. That creates stress and fatigue which can cause the officer's reaction time to slow down and his decision making process to be impaired. It can shorten his patience, he can become irritable, and that can affect his job performance."

Alderman Steve White, who is now police commissioner, said he wanted more time to study the issue but Alderman Tonya Sullivan later made a motion that the city advertise for the hiring of one certified police officer. "I make a motion that we advertise for a full time officer to try to alleviate the $60,000 to $70,000 spent per year in overtime. Alderman Willie Thomas seconded the motion and Alderman Jerry Hutchins, Sr. voted with them. Aldermen White and Cecil Burger voted "no".

Meanwhile, in other business, the aldermen voted unanimously to approve Mayor Hendrixson's appointments to various city boards.

Alderman Burger was appointed to serve as the city council's representative on the Smithville Electric System Board while Dr. W.E. Vanatta was re-appointed to a new term as a citizen member. Burger will serve for two years, through June 30th, 2010 and Vanatta for four years, through June 30th, 2012.

Alderman White was appointed to serve as the city council's representative on the Smithville Planning Commission for two years and Wallace Caldwell will serve as a citizen member for four years.

Paul Hardeman was named to the Board of Zoning Appeals as a citizen member through June 30th, 2012

Alderman White was also appointed to serve as the city council's representative on the E-911 board for two years.

The council gave approval for the city to include seized and surplus property to be sold at auction along with the Sheriff's Department's surplus sale to be held on September 27th.

Alderman Sullivan moved that the city obtain specs for playground equipment for the city park on Smith Road, since funds are in the budget for the project. The vote was unanimous.

Sullivan also thanked the city employees including Secretary-Treasurer Hunter Hendrixson, Public Works Director Kevin Robinson, and the police department " for the excellent job performed during the Jamboree. We appreciate their efforts and work. It wouldn't be successful without the help of the city workers."

Mayor Hendrixson added his thanks saying "they did a wonderful job and I appreciate them too."

Hunter Hendrixson also thanked the volunteer fire department and expressed his appreciation to Riverwatch and Evins Mill Nursery for allowing the city to use their carts for the trash detail during the Jamboree.

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