One force shrink­ing, one booming

As Dal­las strug­gles to re­place flee­ing of­fi­cers, FW over­flows with cops

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & State - By NAHEED RAJWANI Staff Writer nra­jwani@dal­las­news.com

Nearly four dozen new po­lice of­fi­cers will hit the streets of Fort Worth next week.

And un­like Dal­las, whose force is stretched thin, the Fort Worth Po­lice Depart­ment was so full that it had to get City Coun­cil ap­proval to make room for the rook­ies.

The Fort Worth depart­ment had 16 va­can­cies — so few that the coun­cil had to step in Tues­day and au­tho­rize an expansion of the po­lice force to ac­com­mo­date the ar­rivals.

In a time when po­lice de­part­ments across the coun­try are hav­ing trou­ble hir­ing of­fi­cers, Fort Worth’s chal­lenges put it in an en­vi­able po­si­tion.

Com­pare them to Dal­las’ staffing woes, and you’ve got a “tale of two cities” sce­nario.

In Dal­las, City Coun­cil mem­bers talk about re­tain­ing of­fi­cers and tem­po­rar­ily hir­ing back re­tirees as civil­ian em­ploy­ees to help make up for the hun­dreds of of­fi­cers who have left the depart­ment.

In Fort Worth, coun­cil mem­bers talk about mak­ing room for their academy class be­cause the po­lice force is near ca­pac­ity.

So what could ex­plain the dif­fer­ence?

Dal­las’ higher-than-ex­pected at­tri­tion has been at­trib­uted to an ag­ing po­lice force, a trou­bled pension and mo- rale prob­lems.

The city’s bud­get al­lows for a 3,094-of­fi­cer depart­ment this fis­cal year. There are 3,051 of­fi­cers in the depart­ment, where staffing is at a 10-year low.

Pay has be­come a key stum­bling block for Dal­las, where of­fi­cers start at $49,207 a year, thou­sands be­low start­ing pay in sub­urbs such as Mesquite and Irv­ing. Af­ter a pay bump ap­proved last year, the start­ing salary will rise to $55,288 in Dal­las next year.

Of­fi­cers start­ing out in Fort Worth are paid $54,312, and that can grow to over $61,000 with two to five years’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

Last week, Dal­las Po­lice Chief U. Re­nee Hall trimmed her lead­er­ship staff

and said she wants to as­sign more of­fi­cers to pa­trol du­ties to boost the depart­ment’s ef­fi­ciency.

But in Fort Worth, cir­cum­stances are vastly dif­fer­ent. At­tri­tion is lower than ex­pected, academy classes are fill­ing up and the pro­mo­tional process that cre­ates va­can­cies in the of­fi­cer ranks is pend­ing. That’s cre­ated a bot­tle­neck in the bot­tom ranks.

Un­til this week, 45 re­cruits were next in line to be­come of­fi­cers, but there were only 16 open­ings for them. On Tues­day, the Fort Worth coun­cil au­tho­rized a tem­po­rary in­crease in of­fi­cer po­si­tions — ex­pand­ing them from 1,730 of­fi­cers to 1,759 — to ac­com­mo­date the in­com­ing of­fi­cers.

The swear­ing-in cer­e­mony is sched­uled for Satur­day.

Fort Worth of­fi­cials said they plan to sub­mit new staffing num­bers in the spring. They ex­pect the force to shrink to 1,670 of­fi­cers by then.

The Fort Worth depart­ment also has a wild card work­ing in its fa­vor: a vi­ral mar­ket­ing cam­paign.

Videos fea­tur­ing Star Wars char­ac­ters Darth Vader and, more re­cently, Chew­bacca have racked up more than 200,000 views com­bined on Youtube.

It seems “the Force” has been with Fort Worth’s force.

Fort Worth Po­lice Depart­ment

Fort Worth re­cently hired nearly four dozen of­fi­cers, but with only 16 va­can­cies, the City Coun­cil had to au­tho­rize an expansion of the po­lice force to ac­com­mo­date the ar­rivals.

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