One force shrinking, one booming
As Dallas struggles to replace fleeing officers, FW overflows with cops
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 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.