ABILENE, Texas - Abilene police welcomed 19 new cadets into their ranks Monday. Administrators, however, hope to add even more officers with the help of city council and a federal grant.
Police Chief Stan Standridge said staffing is the biggest issue facing the police department. The department is authorized to staff 189 sworn officers; yet, the ranks currently stand at 184. The hiring process also takes about 20 months because cadets must undergo rigorous training before they are able to patrol on their own.
Since police saw an increase in nearly every type of crime last year and the department's call load increased 13.4 percent since 2005, Standridge said more officers are necessary.
"We have to be mindful of increasing first responder services," Standridge said. "So right now we're struggling to get the job done with 189 authorized sworn – which by the way we're hardly ever at – we're down to 184 already so we're literally always addressing staffing."
In the 2014 budget, Standridge will ask city council members to add eight additional officers to the authorized level of 189.
Standridge said it costs about $68,000 to hire a new officer. The price tag includes the officer's salary, equipment and benefits. Taking that into account, Standridge applied for the Department of Justice COPS Hiring Program grant. If Abilene police are approved of the grant, the grant would pay for up to 75 percent of the cost of hiring up to nine officers.
"The grant actually is on a graduated scale," Standridge said. "And so it says they're going to pay 75 percent for all three years, but the reality is by the time you pay out over three years, you will have absorbed more than 25 percent of the cost. So it's not a true 75-25 break. There's an expectation that the municipal government pick up more and more of the cost each year of that three-year contract. And they obviously in the fourth year, you absorb all of the personnel cost."
Standridge said he expects city council will vote on his request for eight additional officers in August. If the department is approved of the federal grant, he plans to ask the council for a ninth officer. He expects a response on the grant in October.
"City administration has worked closely with police administration to identify true needs, those have been presented in the budget and will ultimately be considered by city council," Standridge said. "Now it will be a win-win if the department of justice gives us the COPS Hiring grant because it will minimize the impact economically on our taxpayers."
Standridge said he had the option of applying to either hire up to nine school resource officers, up to nine military veterans or devote funding to reducing gun violence. He said he opted to hire military veterans because it would present the most options.
If the grant money comes through, Standridge plans to allocate one officer to Wylie ISD and two to Abilene ISD. The other officers would join the patrol division.
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