OPD beefs up detective staff
Jan 26, 2013 (Odessa American - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Odessa Police Department expects to move seven or eight officers to detective positions in the coming weeks, filling vacancies and offering some relief in heavy detective caseloads.
Ten officers took a detective exam Jan. 17, said Capt. Jesse Duarte of the Special Operations Bureau. Four of those officers are already serving temporary assignments as detectives. The department is budgeted for 27 detectives. If enough officers pass to fill the planned positions, which is expected, five or six vacancies would remain, but workloads would become more manageable.
In the department, staffing the patrol force is first priority. Patrol officers respond to an intense call-load that exceeds many counterparts in other Texas cities, an Odessa American analysis showed last month. And, as Duarte said, "Patrol is the backbone of the department. We have to have officers on the streets."
But detectives maintain an intense workload as well, handling an average 30 to 50 cases each, Duarte said. (Homicide detectives handle fewer cases, but those are generally more time intensive).
Fleshing out the detective staff became possible as graduates of the spring 2012 academy class completed their field training, according to Cpl. Sherrie Carruth, police spokeswoman.
After field training, officers become independently deployable. When four graduated last month, that bumped patrol staffing to the desired minimum of 21 officers per shift. "Anytime we can fill up on patrol, it's a wonderful thing," Lt. Wes Carta, head the D-shift patrol, recently said.
Meeting that patrol minimum freed four other patrol officers for temporary assignments as detectives, where they have worked under the tutelage of senior detectives.
Before the temporary assignments, there were just 14 detectives, as four officers left in the past two months, Duarte said: Two detectives asked to return to patrol, where hours are more regular, and two left the department for other jobs -- one in Amarillo and one in Hobbs, N.M.
The department groups police officers into three subdivisions: property crimes; narcotics; and persons crimes, further divided into the robbery/homicide unit and the assault unit, which also includes sexual assaults.
Generally speaking, an officer promoted to detective begins his work in property crimes, which requires less technical and less costly training than other positions, such as an assignment to the homicide/robbery unit. Property crimes positions allow detectives to master skills such as writing search warrants and other affidavits.
"I wish I had 40 detectives; it would be awesome," Duarte said, but there's a general lack of resources.
The department most recently reported a sworn force of 169 officers, reflecting 11 vacancies.
But Chief Tim Burton recently said (via Carruth) that he wanted a minimum two officers per 1,000 residents to respond to the current crime climate, largely shaped by the oil boom. That ratio translates to a sworn police force of 201 officers -- 21 more than the city has budgeted. That reflects an ideal, Carruth said, not an amount the chief is requesting from the city.
Burton has said staggered hiring is necessary because rookies require months of field training and must be paired with existing officers. City Manager Richard Morton has cited economic uncertainty as a reason for staggered hiring: If Odessa hired many officers at once and an oil bust followed, the department might be left with officers it can't afford.
As one method of making officers' workloads more manageable, the department's command staff is considering a cite-and-release strategy for non-violent B misdemeanors. They will consult with the County Attorney Scott Layh, who says he plans to meet with commanders in the near future.
Even with the added detectives, workloads will remain high. And that means the department must carefully set its priorities, which sometimes means sacrifice, Duarte explained.
"In the City of Odessa, say someone commits a crime: They key your brand new Escalade. That's the most important thing to you: that we find this person. And that's OK. That's how it should be. But is it comparable to the young lady at 7-Eleven who has a gun stuck in her face by a guy demanding money " Duarte said.
There's philosophy, and there's response as dictated by circumstance.
"We should provide the same service to every victim, no matter the seriousness of the crime," Duarte said, but in an environment of austerity, "It's like you're a medic: Do I transport this person with a migraine, or this person having a heart attack "
Contact Corey Paul on Twitter @OAcrime on Facebook at OA Corey Paul or call 432-333-7768.
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