(TNS) - City officials and the public "really need to be concerned," about the shrinking police force, interim Dallas Police Chief David Pughes said Monday.
Pughes told the City Council's public safety committee that the department is down to a nearly critical level of 3,077 officers. That's the smallest force the city has had in about 10 years. Another 100 would-be officers are training in the police academy.
The chief said he's concerned that the department, which peaked at nearly 3,700 officers about six years ago, will be short-handed while entering the summer months, when crime generally increases.
Consternation about the failing Dallas Police and Fire Pension System has driven the officers to quit and retire much faster than the department can hire and train new ones.
So far this year, police have hired just 80 officers and expect to hire 200 — far from their target of around 450. And the department has lost 244 officers this year, many of whom had more than 20 years of experience. Police officials believe another 120 will leave by the end of September.
Deputy Chief Scott Walton said the projections remain "a huge wild card" until a bill to save the pension from insolvency is signed into law by the governor. The bill is awaiting a House vote and has met political opposition from Mayor Mike Rawlings, who has called on voters to push lawmakers to change the legislation.
High attrition is one of several major issues that Pughes inherited when he took the temporary job in October. Violent crime has also been on the rise, and Pughes discovered last year that the 911 call center was short-staffed. The latter problem became clear to the public when some technology-induced call spikes left hundreds of emergency callers on hold.
But the attrition — and the unknown about how many more will leave — keeps Pughes up at night.
Council member Adam McGough said he believes "a perfect storm is coming." And he's worried the city isn't ready for it.
"At a certain point, we just need bodies, warm bodies who are willing to serve our communities and protect us in a way that needs to happen," he said.
Pughes said he is looking into hiring retired officers full time or part time but hasn't worked through all the details yet.
"I'm actually excited about the possibility of bringing retirees back in whatever capacity they can work," Pughes said.
He may also use reserve officers and overtime to bolster the force.
Pughes said the officers he has left have done "an amazing job" at fighting crime. He told the committee that property crimes are down so far this year, through April 12, over the same time period last year. Violent crimes were up slightly. But crime is still mostly higher than it was in 2015 when the department had closer to 3,500 officers.
Response times, however, have crept up slightly again. Pughes said three patrol divisions — north central, southwest and southeast — all had some struggles but have performed better recently.
Council member Philip Kingston lauded Pughes for "doing a good job with not enough personnel."
Pughes said he's doing his best to make sure his officers feel appreciated. But he worries about losing too many good ones.
"My only hope right now is that it doesn't get any worse," he said.
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