The topic of staffing for the Lewisville Police Department has become a part of the discussion this election season. We interviewed Chief of Police Russell Kerbow to learn more about how the department is staffed.
More officers are in the plans for LPD, but according to Kerbow, the plan is to increase staffing gradually. The numbers of calls for service, response time and the city’s growth on the east side are big driving factors. Staying fully staffed even at the department’s current level can be a challenge.
In the City of Lewisville’s $86 million general fund budget, the police department is the largest service area, accounting for almost $25 million. It has more people and spends about $5 million more than the next biggest service area, the fire department.
The department is authorized 234 employees, of which 158 are sworn police officers, and the rest are civilians. Officers are divided into patrol, community services, and administrative services bureaus.
Because of normal turnover like retirements and resignations, it’s rare to have all 158 slots filled at any given time. Kerbow said that at the moment, the department has slots for six officers unfilled. Additionally, Kerbow said he’s looking to hire two patrol officers over the next six years to cover a new beat on the far east side of Lewisville.
In addition to hiring for the six vacant slots LPD is authorized and Kerbow’s long-term plan to staff up on the east side, Kerbow said it may be time to look at staffing for Criminal Investigations Division, or CID. It’s also in the long-term plan to add more patrol supervision and in conjunction with LISD, possibly more school resource officers.
Aside from the planned additions, Kerbow didn’t see a need for any large increase in staff.
“The stats don’t tell me that we do,” Kerbow said, referring to Lewisville’s crime rates and calls for service over time.
Even if more positions were authorized, hiring new officers is not a quick or easy process.
As recently as 2016, the department had at least 15 vacant authorized positions, and recruitment issues had reached a critical point. After instituting a policy to allow lateral transfers for officers from other departments to come Lewisville and maintain their years of experience, Kerbow told the council last summer that he had finally filled every position.
Any new positions go through the annual budgeting process, which for LPD starts with the police chief.
Kerbow said he had made a deal with former city manager Claude King and current city manager Donna Barron since day one.
“When I became chief, I told them I won’t ask for anything I don’t think I really do need,” Kerbow said. “Because I don’t believe in those kinds of games with the budget — I don’t believe in going and asking for 12 guys knowing they can only give me three.”
Not everything his staff proposes to him will make it into his budget request. Kerbow said his responsibility is to look and figure out what they really do need. He explained that different bureaus within the department might not know what the other ones need.
“You can only get so much,” Kerbow said. “It’s not an infinite pot of gold. There have to be some priorities over what you can spend your money for.”
Barron said she tells the department directors each year what she knows the budget pressures will be.
“For an example, I know that a significant pressure on the FY 18-19 budget will be the staffing and operational costs of Fire Station #8 ($2.0 million),” Barron said. The city’s general fund budget is the biggest source of funding for most departments.
Barron also said that the city will have budget pressure associated with the multi generational center staffing, since some positions will be added in the coming fiscal year.
“As manager, I have to look at City Council priorities and plans and get the critical programs in the base [budget] and then prioritize a list of unfunded programs for City Council to consider. What the City Council is able to fund is dependent on whether property values increase or decrease and the tax rate they set.”
“All of us kind of secretly know that,” Kerbow said, speaking of department directors. “We know what the budget can accommodate, so I know that if I come in and try to ask for one more person — is that more valuable than making sure that we don’t do furlough days for the guys that are already here?”
Kerbow has been through three recessions since he joined the force in 1974.
“We’ve always had the philosophy here that, lets make sure we can take care of the ones that we already have on payroll, and not worry so much about trying to grab an additional body,” Kerbow said. “Even if it’s just a 1 percent raise to kind of keep us on pace with the market out there, it speaks more to the value of your current people than it does for trying to grab for more.”
Asked about a hypothetical request for an additional 10 officers, and whether she would take it to the city council, Barron said it would have to be justified even if public safety is a top priority.
“If Russ submitted a program requesting 10 officers with all the required equipment, the package would be approximately $1.5 million,” Barron said.
“I will often ask the department director for options — perhaps add over 2-3 years since adding 10 officers at one time would be difficult to fill in one year even with our lateral hiring process. There is not an easy answer to your question. He would have to justify the request.”
Hiring new officers
Kerbow has already begun to add the six officers needed to fill a round-the-clock patrol position on the far east side of the city near Castle Hills. City Council approved three positions two years ago, and one in the current year’s budget. That leaves two officers needed for the beat, which Kerbow hopes to get over the next two to three years.
Kerbow said filling the department’s six vacant positions is in process.
“We’ll start in May trying to have a test each month for about 3 months in a row just to get enough people in the hopper to be able to try and go through and get them filled,” Kerbow said. “It’s always a struggle to try to stay full amidst retirements and people moving on to other things.”
Even given the city’s approval, the process for hiring rookies can be lengthy, and only a small fraction of applicants make it to training. Kerbow said that for new recruits, it takes a minimum of 18 months from initial testing, to training, and eventually working the streets.
LPD periodically administers a test with both written exam and physical ability components, then performs in-depth background checks before selecting new hires.
That recruit is then sent to a local police academy for training. The police academy could be in Arlington, hosted by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, or at Fort Worth’s Tarrant County College or even in Denton, hosted by their police department.
Academy takes 18 to 20 weeks. Each academy has their own class start dates, so LPD can choose from the different academies to minimize the amount of wait time after a recruit is hired.
Once an officer graduates academy, they are sworn in, but do not begin serving yet. Instead, they go through local training. It starts with a two-week orientation mini academy, then a 16-week field training program before they can be out on the streets responding to calls on their own.
Kerbow said Lewisville doesn’t currently have any recruits in the academy, but that if there were, they would count toward the department’s authorized strength, even though they’re not available to work shifts.
Recruits earn a paycheck while in training, and the city covers the tuition. According to the current published rookie pay rate, the city would spend about $46,000 on salary, plus the cost of insurance and other benefits before that officer ever hit the streets.
The numbers show that LPD is very selective in its hiring.
For the last hiring test, Kerbow said that of the 200 people signed up, 70 took the tests, but only 30 passed both the written and physical components. Of those, 19 were selected to be sent for background checks. Additional steps in the process include an oral board interview and a medical and psychological examination. Of those 19, LPD is down to a final six or seven recruits. Even if a recruit survives the hiring process, they could wash out of academy or quit afterward.
Kerbow said the washout rate is not very high, and that most that leave elect to get out of policing on their own. He said the force is able to keep at least 75 percent of recruits they send to the academy. Kerbow said sometimes the department could still use that person in detention or dispatch.
“They get into training and they go to that call that really opens the eyes,” Kerbow said. “With all the testing and all the things that we’ve done to get them to that point to try to make sure they know what they’re getting into, you still get those people that go, ‘Shit, I’m not cut out for this.’”
The department’s patrol bureau contains the lion’s share of the officers, with 103 currently allocated to patrol. Patrol is staffed around the clock, 365 days per year. Its officers respond to calls for service across the city as well as proactively identify and deter threats to public safety.
Kerbow said that as a rule of thumb, it takes 6 officers to staff one around-the-clock position. This accounts for days off, training, sick time and vacation. In addition to pay and benefits for each officer, the city outfits them with about $15,000 worth of equipment, including uniforms, radios and weapons. For each of those patrol positions, the department needs about two fully-outfitted patrol cars. Kerbow said the cars and their equipment cost about $70,000 to $75,000 each.
To set the staffing levels for each shift, Kerbow says he looks at trying to maintain a 60/40 split for the officer’s time. That split puts the officer responding to calls for service 60 percent of the time, with 40 percent of their time non-committed. They can use that time on preventative patrol. Kerbow says that this level allows each patrol officer to respond to about 1,000 calls per year.
Four shifts of patrol officers put 14 to 16 officers on the streets day and night during weekdays and 20 officers on the streets day and night during weekends. Officers generally work 12 hour shifts for three days one week and four days the next week. For staffing purposes, weekdays are Monday-Wednesday or Monday-Thursday, and weekends are Thursday-Sunday or Friday-Sunday, alternating every week.
Shift changes are done on a 50/50 split basis, with half of the force coming on at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. and half coming on at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m.
Patrol officers are assigned to a beat within one of the city’s four police districts. The districts divide the city into four quadrants, with Interstate 35E dividing the city into east and west and Bellaire Blvd. or SH 121 Business dividing it into north and south on either side.
Within each district, the patrol beats have set boundaries that tend not to change over time. Because crime statistics are tied to beats, Kerbow said they can look at historical data to see crime history for the areas.
Officers are not strictly committed to a beat, and may help out other officers or respond to calls in other parts of the city.
The department’s computer-aided dispatch system, or CAD, tracks how busy the officers are, though the information has not yet made it to the city’s online metrics dashboard. Kerbow said he hopes that when the department upgrades its CAD system in the near future, it would help with additional statistics.
Kerbow provided The Lewisville Texan Journal with charts showing that crimes reported over the past 13 years have declined. He also provided a chart comparing population to calls for service over the years. Even though population has grown by nearly 20,000, the total calls for service have remained mostly constant, with 2017 numbers of about 65,000 very close to 2004 numbers.
Both charts showed a spike in crime and calls for service from 2007-2009 during the great recession.
“We look at what increases in workload that we anticipate having, and that’s what helps us to try to forecast staffing needs,” Kerbow said, explaining that they make staffing plans according to what they think is going to be done in the future. “When it really comes down to it, what happens is the workload increases and then we add staff — it’s never the other way around.”
Response time and overload
“Response time is one of the major issues we consider when looking at patrol staffing,” said Donna Barron, Lewisville City Manager. “Our goal is less than 8 minutes, and we are tracking around an average of 6 minutes.”
When it comes to staffing levels, Kerbow says he doesn’t put any weight in measures like officers-per-thousand residents.
“To me, that officer-per-thousand ratio that you hear people talk about a lot, in my opinion, that’s an antiquated measure,” Kerbow said. “That’s something that’s often applied nationwide, and it makes the assumption that everybody’s the same nationwide.”
Even with 16 or 20 officers on shift things can get busy at times.
When LPD runs out of officers, Kerbow said calls just hold in queue.
“It depends on what priority those calls are,” Kerbow said. “If one comes in as priority 1, it’s a life threatening deal, and we shake somebody loose.”
During a prolonged emergency, the department could bring officers in on overtime, or extend shifts.
Kerbow explained that LPD does not really keep patrol officers on call when they’re off-shift.
“We’ve had some great discussions as of late with all the active shooter events that go on and some of the big disasters that can occur,” Kerbow said, bringing up Hurricane Harvey as an example. “We’re working on a more effective recall method to get more people to come in if we needed them to. Because I think that’s where we’ll be lacking is if we had a pretty major incident and we needed more bodies on [duty.] We’re going to put out the call and try to see how many people we can get.”
In the event of a disaster, Kerbow said that depending on how localized it is, it could become a problem that some officers have to deal with their own homes and families, and might not be as able to come in to help out. That’s where he thinks having a plan in place would help prepare for that possibility.
Other staffing needs
While patrol officers take crime reports, detectives in the Criminal Investigations Division have to investigate them and identify suspects to prosecute. Kerbow said the department tracks statistics on case clearance and other measures related to CID.
“That’s probably really where we’re hurting more is there,” Kerbow said.
Kerbow explained that these days, detectives spend a lot more time having to subpoena records.
“As a society we’ve become more reliant upon technology – the smartphone and things like that. Criminals have too,” Kerbow said. “In order to prove those cases, we have to get a lot of records, a lot of data from people who … I can tell you 25 years ago, people would give us that stuff. Now they insist upon a subpoena.”
Kerbow said the department has recently hired a paid intern who is assisting CID with collecting electronic evidence like videos and reviewing it.
“We see it as not only a way to help stretch time for detectives. It’s also a potential recruiting tool,” Kerbow said.
Even if that program carries recruiting value for college students majoring in criminal justice, the department doesn’t recruit directly to CID. Kerbow said new officers start in patrol, and need to have at least two years outside of training before they can move to CID.
“We haven’t really changed the detective strength in a number of years,” Kerbow said. “It’s in a 5 year plan of ours to be able to expand that as well as more patrol supervision.”
LPD may also expand the number of school resource officers. Kerbow said the department is in conversation with Lewisville ISD about expanding the program with three additional officers so that each of the middle schools in the city could have one assigned to it.
Currently the department has six SROs. Three are assigned one each to the three Lewisville High School campuses, and three split their time among the city’s five middle school campuses and Lewisville Learning Center, which houses the District Alternative Education Program for LISD.
The expansion would allow each of the five middle school campuses to be assigned a full-time officer.
The funding for SRO positions is split 50/50 between the city and the school district.
SRO positions are not 24 hour positions, and as such they only require one officer to fill, as opposed to six for patrol officers. The positions are not backfilled with a substitute officer, and LPD is only required to provide one if the main officer needs to miss five or more consecutive days. During the summer, SROs may switch to patrol or special operations, or take their required training for the year, according to Kerbow.
To learn more about serving Lewisville as a police officer, visit http://protectlewisville.com/. To learn more about Lewisville’s annual budgeting process, visit the city’s annual budget page. To hear Lewisville police in action, check out our online police scanner. To view a list of all the suspects that Lewisville police have arrested over the past week, visit our online blotter page.