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Draft plan shows staffing concerns, technology are top of mind for Decatur Police Department


Draft plan shows staffing concerns, technology are top of mind for Decatur Police Department

Decatur Police Officers compare notes in the parking lot of Decatur High. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt
Decatur Police Officers compare notes in the parking lot of Decatur High. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Decatur Police Officers compare notes in the parking lot of Decatur High. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt

A draft of a three year strategic plan for the Decatur Police Department offers a glimpse into the thoughts and attitudes of officers.

According to the plan, the level of staffing is among the top concerns for officers in the department. The department itself is looking to become more technology savvy by creating a social media presence. Currently the department doesn’t have a presence on services like Twitter or Facebook, things that have become the norm for larger departments.

The plan was created using information gathered from invite-only focus groups conducted by a consultant, Organizations by Design.

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The draft offers insight into how officers view their departments and the community they serve.

Chief Mike Booker presented the draft plan to City Commissioners on Dec. 7 and the department released a draft to Decaturish the next day.

According to the plan, the department faces what is described as a “critical staffing shortage,” though it doesn’t give a clear indication of how many officers the department lacks. Booker responded to questions about staffing via email but attempts to set up a more formal interview have been unsuccessful.

“As far as the number of positions that we are allotted, that number is 47 sworn positions,” Booker wrote in the email. “We are always in the process of attempting to hire the very best person for a position of police officer here at the Decatur Police Department. As you know we have very high standards that a person must meet to be an officer here with us and this process can take a while to complete.”

Booker noted that the hiring process for police officers can be a lengthy one.

“We have recently offered positions to several applicants that have accepted and begin the academy on Jan. 4 of 2016,” Booker wrote. “We currently have one at the academy that graduates this month and we have also recently hired officers that are certified from other agencies. All things considered with offers and if all goes as planned we may be down to only two openings.  Again this is contingent on them passing the academy and getting through our Field Training Program.”

He indicated that staffing levels have improved from the time the interviews were conducted.

“Personnel is always an ongoing process, you never know when someone may quit, be terminated, not make it through the academy or may not get through the FTO process,” Booker said. “This is something we have contended with for a very long time.  Again when you have very high standards things sometimes take longer but we believe as a whole that this is the manner that we wish to continue.  We are always looking to see if there are ways to make the process more fluid but not at the expense of losing quality.”

Another item that stands out is the assertion by officers that the department’s “Park and Walk program is a charade.”

According to the Department’s 2005 report, “The purpose of the Park-and-Walk patrols is to have the police officer park their patrol car and conduct foot patrols in different areas of their assigned zone. This allows officers to be visible in the community as a crime deterrent and makes them accessible to members of the community.”

Booker said the claim that this program is misleading is due to a misunderstanding by officers.

“This statement was made by only a couple of people and that issue has already been addressed,” Booker said. “The officers are expected to do park and walks as well as location checks as part of their daily duties. There was a concern by a couple of people (officers) that some officers were viewing them as the same thing, when our (my) expectation is that a location check is just that; it is checking on a specific location or area. A park and walk is getting out of the car and while walking to engage citizens in a manner as to get to know the officer and distribute a business card and offer our services. Like I said, this comment was limited to just a few but that has since been addressed and corrected as a department during a staff meeting.”

One of the plan’s year one goals is to address what the department lacks in terms of social media. The department intends to design and implement a social media plan.

“We’ve never had an active role in social media as a department, and that’s going to be a major effort that we’re undertaking,” Deputy Police Chief Keith Lee told City Commissioners at the Dec. 7 meeting.

Booker said the plan isn’t intended as a critique of the department.

“As it states on the front of the plan that you now have, it states  ‘draft.’ It is not complete but we are working on it and we will try to continue to meet the needs of all the ‘stakeholders’ within the city,” Booker said. “This is a huge undertaking but we believe in what we are doing and we want to make a difference. This plan is not a report card but rather a tool and guide to help us as a department. Companies and departments do strategic plans all the time and this is just a draft of ours.”

There are a few other observations of note from the plan, though they lack context and comment provided by the Police Department. Decaturish is attempting to set up an interview to provide additional information about some of these points:

– Officers said department leaders have a “victim’s” mentality that spreads throughout the department

– Officers questioned the department’s promotion process and said working as court officers and mandatory overtime contributes to staffing problems.

– Under a section titled “Threats – Internal Perspectives,” the plan lists one threat as, “Officers’ perception that all citizens of Decatur see themselves as a ‘privileged’ class who deserve special treatment.

Here is a copy of the draft plan, provided by Decatur Police:


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