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Updated: Tuesday, 02 Oct 2012, 10:43 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 02 Oct 2012, 6:33 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Nearly 300 fewer police officers now patrol the streets of Indianapolis than they did three years ago. A new department hiring program could help reverse the trend, but not until new funding is found.
At a meeting of the Indianapolis Civilian Police Merit Board Tuesday, some called the department’s staffing situation a critical shortage.
“We are hundreds of officers short from where we were a few years ago,” said IMPD Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Bill Owensby. “You cannot continue to do less with less like we have. We are at a tipping point.”
To help reverse the trend, the merit board approved a lateral hiring program, aimed at creating a new pool of available officers who could “hit the ground running.” Under the program, candidates who are less than 36-years-old would be eligible for preferential hiring on a weighted system, provided they meet certain criteria.
At the top of the list would be candidates who are already certified law enforcement officers in Indiana. Additional “points” would be offered to candidates who have lived in Marion County for at least five years. Ideal candidates would also be given points for holding a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree, being honorably discharged from military service, or being bilingual.
IMPD administrators told the board the move would help cut down on training time and costs associated with brand new recruits. That could help put new officers out on the streets faster. Including time devoted to field training, the process of moving from recruitment to full duty service can take one year or more, officers said.
The program would not offer additional starting pay, beyond department incentives already offered to officers who hold college degrees, said IMPD Assistant Chief William Lorah.
The department is expected to lose an average of 43 officers this year through retirement and job performance related issues, Lorah told the board.
But, the bigger concern is how to pay for the new officers. With Indianapolis currently facing a $15 million deficit in its public safety budget, no new regular police officer recruit class is planned for this year.
“If we had funds to hire 50 laterals right now, you're still talking about mid-2013 before we see them on the street,” Owensby told 24-Hour News 8’s Troy Kehoe. “But, we don't have the money to hire laterals now. We have to wait until we free up the budget with people retiring before we can hire laterals."
Owensby says that won’t solve the city’s problem.
“We have to wait until we get 20 or 30 lower before we can hire 20 or 30. And then, we wait for them to be trained and put back out on the streets. So, we're talking about another several months of being even lower than we are now before we can even talk about coming back to the level we are today. There hasn't been in the last several years any routine recruiting, any routine hiring, any routine equipment purchasing. And all that is coming to a head now in the fact that we have to scramble to find money to buy equipment. We can't even buy bullets or taser batteries, because nobody has had a plan. To me that is pathetic,” Owensby said.
Merit board member James Jackson said the numbers are very concerning.
“The FBI suggests five police officers per 1,000 residents for a city our size. We are currently at less than two [officers] per 1,000,” he told the board.
The problem is further illuminated in several city neighborhoods, where homeowners have hired off-duty officers at their own expense to perform additional patrols.
“When you have private citizens banding together, pooling their money together to hire protection--that's symptomatic that you really need to get something done,” Jackson said after the meeting. “If we don't hire new officers, there's the possibility that the officers we have will be overstressed. There's the possibility that the criminals on the street will notice that we're not staffed to the degree we need to be. And, there could be an increase in crime.”
Other officers are concerned that the lateral hiring program could decrease the department’s diversity level.
“The last time we did a lateral class was some time ago,” IMPD Lt. John Walton told the board. “There was all kinds of problems that came up.”
Walton serves as President of the IMPD Minority Officers Association, as says the organization has concerns about the number of minority and female hires the department is focused on in the future.
“I don't believe that was a very diverse class,” Walton continued. “So, my question would be: what are we going to do this time in HR to encourage, develop and make sure we have a diversified class?”
In order to ensure fair hiring of quality applicants, Walton and Owensby both called for the department to implement a 5-year strategic plan that will include specific details on staffing and hiring. The board also talked about establishing a reserve officer program to address short-term staffing shortages.
“This is a golden opportunity
to hit the ground running and I hope we don’t miss it,” Owensby said.
The City-County Council’s Public Safety Committee is set to debate the department's 2013 budget next week.