March 6, 2017

Police Department Staffing Trending in the Right Direction

At his Winter Community Meeting last week, Chief Holloway announced that for the first time in years the Police Department is down to just one sworn officer vacancy.  (Over the past few years we’ve averaged around four.)  And the signs are encouraging that the one remaining position may soon be filled.  To be clear, even with vacancies the Department is always fully staffed for every shift, and there is never a gap in coverage or reduction in service.  But obviously filling vacancies is a good thing and helps the Department do what it does best more efficiently.

It’s widely understood among Bellaire residents that our police officer vacancies fluctuate over time.  There are a great number and variety of reasons for that, many of which are particular to law enforcement.  Officer recruitment and retention presents a complicated puzzle, ranging from societal and departmental factors to individuals’ personal and family considerations.  It takes a very special kind of person to want to become a police officer in the first place, and especially given what’s at stake, we don’t hire just anybody.  Of course, these challenges are by no means unique to Bellaire; police agencies across the country are in the same situation.  Point is, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and we must keep that in mind as we think about how best to improve and retain our staffing numbers.

One thing we can control, and the most obvious, is what we pay our police officers.  We’ve prioritized making Bellaire a premier public safety employer, including by implementing in this year’s budget across-the-board compensation enhancements in both the Police and Fire Departments, bringing base salaries to the 75th percentile in our region.  Considering that many of our officers commute great distances to work in Bellaire, we know we’re competing with the other communities they drive through to get here.  Our pay increase, along with other benefits like the top-notch training we offer, help set us apart.  As does the widespread, loving support for our officers consistently shown by the community they serve.

Again, I don’t mean to oversimplify officer recruitment and retention since there’s a lot more to it than just dollars and cents.  Nor do I want to overstate a causal relationship between our pay increase and the reduction in officer vacancies.  With those caveats in mind, we’re pleased that our police staffing is trending in the right direction and Chief Holloway has additionally noted we’re attracting more experienced officer applicants, who require less training before they’re ready for service.  We’re optimistic our numbers will continue to improve with the new compensation structure in place.