With approval from City Council, the Statesboro Police Department is creating an Office of Professional Standards, to be staffed by one sergeant responsible for recruiting officers as well as handling internal affairs investigations and citizen complaints.
The council Tuesday authorized creating the new sergeant position and filling it by promoting an officer already in the department. Interim Police Chief Rob Bryan also received approval to create four slots for corporals in the patrol division and fill them by promoting advanced patrol officers, or APOs. The professional standards sergeant and the corporals, Bryan said, will help in different ways with vacancies and inexperience created by persistent turnover.
“One of the problems we face as an agency is hiring and recruiting,” Bryan said. “Vacant positions don’t answer calls, and we consistently have vacant positions.”
If fully staffed, the Statesboro Police Department currently would have 87 employees, or 86.5 positions, including a half-time spot. These include 72 sworn officers and people holding 14.5 civilian jobs, according to information the newspaper obtained from Bryan later Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, the police department had six vacancies – not counting the chief’s position. But information had been sent to the city human resources department to send conditional offers to three prospective hires. If they accept, the police will be down to three vacancies.
The sergeant in charge of the professional standards office will follow up on complaints and all investigations into use of force, and will maintain statistics for all of those things, Bryan said.
“I want to provide you with quarterly, or definitely annual, statistics on the amount of complaints the agency receives and the outcomes of those complaints, the number of use-of-forces and the outcome,” he told the mayor and council.
By having someone assigned to recruit officers, Bryan said, he also hopes the department can report by the end of this year or next year that it has no vacancies.
The professional standards officer will also conduct criminal background checks on the department’s job applicants, relieving patrol officers of this task, Bryan said.
Meanwhile, the department needs the four corporals to remedy a lack of supervision in its patrol bureau, Bryan told City Council. Again as a result of frequent departures, the department has a large number of young, relatively inexperienced patrol officers.
“We actually need more supervision in that bureau,” Bryan said. “Part of the reason for that is, our consistent turnover rate has dropped the average experience of patrol officers to 3.7 years.”
As of December, of the 30 officers assigned to patrol shifts, 20 had less than five years of experience, and 14 of those had less than two years of experience, Bryan reported.
Two years ago, the department, then under former Public Safety Director Wendell Turner, eliminated two lieutenant positions in a reshuffling of its command structure. It now has two lieutenants, four sergeants and four corporals assigned to the patrol bureau.
The reduction in lieutenants removed a level of supervision, leaving the two lieutenants as watch commanders, each supervising both day shift and night shift, on duty for part of each. Each shift then has one patrol sergeant, one corporal, and up to 10 officers when fully staffed.
“What I’m asking to do is add another layer of supervision by adding one corporal per shift, busting those shifts up into squads,” Bryan said.
Each corporal will then supervise four or five officers, a sergeant will supervise the entire shift, and each lieutenant will oversee two sergeants.
The proposal had been vetted by the whole SPD command staff, Bryan reported. Interim City Manager Robert Cheshire also spoke for the proposal, saying that the previous setup had not really worked.
However, Bryan said the 2014 restructuring was good because it put additional officers on the street.
“I believe this will supplement that by returning the supervision to the route it needed to go,” he said.
Bryan had projected that the four promotions to corporal, together, would cost $11,000 to $17,000 for a full year. After having talked to city Finance Director Cindy West, Bryan said that the actual cost will probably be in the middle of the range but will not be known until the individual officers are chosen for promotion.
He projected the cost of the professional standards sergeant promotion at $3,500 to $5,000. Both costs, he said, will be budget-neutral.
“If approved, we have current funding in the budget to implement it, and it will be reflected in our next budget request without increasing that budget request,” Bryan said.
He also proposed another employee reclassification, making permanent an advanced patrol officer’s assignment as a system administrator for the Sunguard records management and computer-aided dispatch systems installed a year ago. APO Mary Harris is already in that job. Bryan said she acts as an information technology officer for the police, reducing calls to the city’s separate IT department.
Bryan told the council he had no names to attach to the four new corporal and one new sergeant positions yet. The jobs are being posted for applicants within the department. The sergeant hire could be a promotion or a lateral move, he said.
New District 2 Councilman Sam Jones praised the department for creating opportunities for officers to advance and then asked a pointed question.
“In promoting regular APOs to corporal positions, you’re creating the opportunity to get promotion in-house, and I think that’s great that you’re setting it up for a win-win situation,” Jones said.
Then he asked if any of the four new corporals will be minorities.
“I can’t tell you who will apply yet,” Bryan said. “It will be an open process. Anybody who is eligible by policy will be able to apply.”
But two other corporal vacancies had been posted Monday morning, one created by a recent promotion to sergeant. Bryan noted that he had named two acting corporals, one a white officer, one a black officer, to fill these until final hires are made.
“So, of the acting positions, yes, one was a minority officer promoted to an acting corporal’s position, and I do believe that he will apply,” Bryan said. “If we have others who are eligible, yes sir, I do expect to see their applications.”
Jones seconded District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum’s motion to approve the police job reclassifications. The vote was 4-0 with District 5 Councilman Travis Chance absent.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.