For the past 4 years, I have focused on two major areas.
As any CEO or manager will do when coming into a new job or company, I evaluated the town’s needs against the department’s resources and discovered a clear correlation between the resources and the capability of our department. Without the resources, there is no capacity for excellence. Fewer resources (including human) equaled less competence in performance of our mission.
Protocols, Policies and Procedures were reviewed:
I also looked at the “culture” of the department – morale, attitudes, ability to work together or with others, ethics, the relationship with the community-al-large; was the law applied equally to all people? What kind of reporting was done, and was it up to a prosecutorial standards? In other words, would police reports hold up in court? How was the cooperation and collaboration with neighboring law enforcement agencies – what kind of relationship did APD have with St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office and St. Martin Sheriff’s Office? There were significant gaps and deficiencies in all of these areas.
Some deficiencies were blatantly clear, and others were hidden from view, to be discovered and corrected later. In reviewing and taking corrective action in all of these areas, I also had to assess Arnaudville, our citizens, the demographics, the crime rate, the business climate, tourism and how all of that can determine how many officers are needed at any given time. Quite simply, four was never going to be enough, six might be a minimum, and as situations and circumstances changed, more than six could be a future possibility. What I did know with certainty: Arnaudville was in need of a new, and higher set of standards, along with an increase in awareness by our town council and mayor. And so I began the work, with the outward support and encouragement of the elected officials.
My work resulted in these improvements, among many others:
After 4 years, and many changes, the enforcement of the law has increased exponentially. We are recognized by small and medium communities as having one of the best improved departments in the state. We are respected, and I am often asked to share our experience with other communities!
While these improvements are tangible and impressive, there is still much to accomplish when addressing the human element of law enforcement. If I am to fight for the safety and protection of our town, I cannot stop short by not addressing those men and women who wear the Arnaudville Police uniform and serve. Within my responsibilities are their well-being that includes fair compensation.
Salary and benefits are directly related to retention and recruitment efforts. I am satisfied that officers are not leaving because of poor management, deficient equipment or bad morale. Police officers and dispatchers are among the 47% of the population who are defined as the “working poor”. In Arnaudville, this huge percent is struggling to meet basic needs like food, housing, childcare, health care, and transportation. Most end up choosing what to sacrifice, and many live one emergency away from a crisis. No one should have to choose between food or healthcare, between childcare or housing. Yet, some of our elderly do; single moms do; the clerk at the store does; the CNA at the nursing home does; the firefighter and the teacher does. And guess what? Police officers and dispatchers do.
Surveying several police departments throughout our region, I found that those that have the smallest turnover rate are those that offer medical insurance. Sure, the town boasts that we pay half of the premium for the employee who must go out and get the insurance. Half is still restrictive, and unaffordable, and so many just simply do without, and leave the first chance they can for a department that will provide it. If given the choice between health care and retirement, I predict that most would choose healthcare- that element that affects the here and now, their every day lives. This single issue is bleeding our police department of good, dedicated officers and cannot be ignored indefinitely.
Bolstering my argument are a few facts. No one on the town council has had the benefit of police training, is informed on best practices for police departments, or works inside a law enforcement agency. While the council approves the Chief’s budget, it CANNOT manage or dictate the management of that budget. It is separate from the town’s budget in that respect. The council approves hiring based on the recommendation of the Chief, but cannot directly hire or fire an employee of the department.
It may be a slender, yet useful opportunity for a candidate for mayor to declare that we did fine with only four on the road in the past (for 4 shifts). The statement may be an attempt to appear frugal or fiscally responsible, or to feed a political agenda, but for whatever reason, it is without full consideration or acknowledgement of the reality of everything I’ve just cited, or based on the vast improvements I’ve made to our town police department, much of which relied on increasing staff. Unlike the past, today, none of our officers are sitting in the office; none are sleeping on the side of the road; none are idly sliding through a shift – and my expertise says we are still needing a full complement of officers to take care of 24 hours of calls, patrolling, field training, and relief, AND provide crucial backup in a much more threatening society and culture.
Authority over the elected Chief’s operation is limited, and for good reason. No council member is in the position to assess or determine the optimal structure, personnel requirements, scheduling, duties, or policies within the department. The citizens of the town elect the Chief, and by so doing, must trust his capabilities related to management, planning, and assessing the needs of the community and the resources required to properly and adequately address those needs. An increase in personnel, whether it be dispatchers, reserves or officers should be assumed by all to be a deliberate and well- considered action by the Chief, and should not be met with indirect threats during election-time posturing. I say to every candidate - from alderman to mayor: Don’t play politics with people’s safety, security or property. Don’t look for financial shortcuts in an already tight operation, but, instead give us evidence that you are working to find ways to keep it staffed with people who aren’t looking to leave at the first chance.