FORT WORTH -- To address a shortage of patrol officers and a rise in response times, Fort Worth police detectives will soon be required to work one week of patrol, Police Chief Jeff Halstead told city staff in an e-mail this week.
That mandate, along with requiring school security initiative officers to work patrol this summer and neighborhood police officers to answer calls one day a week, will help keep the crime rate down this summer as the department struggles with a patrol level that Halstead deems "very low."
"I do not expect these crime-reduction programs will be well received by all employees or the POA [Police Officers Association] but, we simply have to put the residents first," Halstead said in the e-mail sent Monday to City Manager Tom Higgins and Assistant City Manager Charles Daniels. "We also have to address these staffing issues immediately and get these response times lowered during the highest volume of the year ... this summer."
Halstead warned that the plans would be only a temporary fix. He pointed out that response times have increased the past two years. And only four detectives have been added even though the number of criminal cases has grown by 11,000 in two years.
"We simply need more police officers in patrol and in our investigative assignments due to the massive growth of our city, to decrease our response times, to reduce crime (proactive patrol measures), and to handle the volume increase in criminal cases sent to our investigators," he wrote.
City officials did not address Halstead's letter or his concerns during Tuesday's City Council meeting. But Jason Lamers, chief of staff for Mayor Betsy Price, applauded him Wednesday.
"In almost every city across America, we're all struggling under the budget crunch," Lamers said. "Department heads are making innovative moves to help preserve the level of public services that the citizens expect."
74 unfilled patrol jobs
The Police Department has 1,562 authorized sworn-officer positions, 718 of which are designated for patrol.
Officials say that 15 patrol positions are vacant and that 59 more are temporarily unfilled because officers are on light duty, military leave or workers' compensation.
"Coupled with the increase in criminal cases and increase in response times, those are the three factors resulting in us looking at creative initiatives to supplement our patrol staffing," Maj. Paul Henderson said.
While school security initiative officers will return to their schools in the fall, Henderson said, the other two initiatives will run from June 1 through the end of the year, when they will be reassessed.
Stephen Hall, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, called Halstead's plans just a "Band-Aid fix." He said to address the real problem, the city needs to authorize the hiring of new officers.
"We're not trying to bash the chief," Hall said. "The city is taking the stance that they can cut budgets, cut budgets, cut budgets. Eventually, we run out of resources. We're rapidly approaching that nexus."
Since 2010, the Police Department's budget has been cut by $20 million.
Response times rise
Fort Worth grew by 9,360 residents from 2011 to 2012, according to figures released last month by the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The growth was higher than in any other city in the 16-county region.
According to a department patrol analysis, the average response times to priority one calls increased from six minutes, five seconds in July 2010 to six minutes, 26 seconds by July 2011. In the fourth quarter last year, that figure was six minutes, 52 seconds, according to the analysis.
"We are short-handed, and the citizens are getting the short end of the stick," Hall said.
Crimes against persons in Fort Worth increased 4.1 percent from 2010 to 2011 while property crimes fell 2.3 percent, according to the National Incident-Based Reporting System.
Halstead did not say in his letter how many new officers and detectives he believes are needed. Henderson said the department is analyzing staffing using a recognized patrol allocation model.
In 2001, most officers up to the rank of captain were mandated to work a week of patrol.
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655