There could be a larger number of officers in the ranks of the Joplin Police Department later this year as current trainees complete training.
Though numbers at the department are always changing as officers resign or retire, the department currently has 14 in different stages of training. Six of those officers will be ready to hit the streets in June and eight more will be out of training and ready to go on regular duty in December, said Brian Lewis, assistant police chief.
Right now, the department is down by 29 because of unfilled positions. Reasons for the unfilled positions include officers who could eventually return because they are out for military duty and those on light duty for medical reasons, Lewis said, "but we are seeing improvement in terms of filling those open positions." The department is authorized for 111 positions.
With the current trainees coming on board this year, by this time next year "we will be down to 15 unavailable, depending on whether we have resignations. We are definitely on an upward trend on personnel and we hope that continues," Lewis said.
He credits increases in the pay scale given in recent years to the department for gaining momentum on attracting new hires.
Those include an average increase of 11.7% that went into effect in September as part of a labor agreement reached with members of the Fraternal Order of Police, Southwest Missouri Lodge No. 27.
A committee appointed by the City Council is researching a way to fund city wage increases over a long term after pay studies pointed to an overall need for increased pay in most city jobs.
Police Chief Sloan Rowland mentioned the increased number of new officers in training at the department during a presentation of the department's 2022 annual report at a City Council meeting on Monday.
He also reported that violent crime was about the same last year as the previous year with 1,560 total incidents that include assaults and domestic assaults, homicide, unlawful use of a weapon, sex crimes and robberies. That is down from more than 1,800 in 2019 and 2020, he said.
Property crimes have dropped four years straight with 3,987 reported last year compared with 4,588 in 2019. Those crimes include arson, burglary, larceny, vandalism, vehicle thefts and thefts from vehicles.
The police chief said there have been lots of weapons stolen from unlocked vehicles. He said making sure vehicles are locked before leaving them unattended could prevent many of those thefts because police have observed people checking doors. If they find them locked, they move on to another vehicle but they take whatever they can find in unlocked vehicles.
Traffic crashes were slightly down from previous years, 1,550 compared with 1,618 last year and a high for the four-year range of 1,973 in 2019.
Lewis said intersections along Range Line Road continue to be the locations of the highest number of crashes, which he attributed to driver inattention, following too closely and signal violations.
Residents may be seeing officers more often in their neighborhoods because of a change made last summer to adopt 12-hour shifts. That might help with recruiting new officers, Lewis said, because in the past some applicants turned down jobs here because Joplin did not use the 12-hour shift schedule.
The department's former schedule of 10-hour shifts was not considered efficient by a consultant that recommended in a recent study both shift and beat changes. The beat changes have not yet been implemented and police administrators are evaluating the 12-hour shifts. The consultant also said that many officers prefer the 12-hour shifts because it allows more officers to have weekends off twice a month.
Under 10-hour shifts, one team had every weekend off and the other officers did not get any weekends off.
Lewis said the reason more officers are on the streets is because there is overlap in the shifts for several hours twice a day.
(c)2023 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)
Visit The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.) at www.joplinglobe.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.