The Burleson City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to add three full-time officers to the city’s police department.
Police Chief Tom Cowan requested that the council amend the 2012-13 budget to add $91,348 to fund the three new positions.
“We don’t want to become a victim of our own success,” Cowan told the council, citing Burleson’s 10 percent population growth since 2009 as the primary reason for needing to add to the police force. Earlier in the meeting, Cowan presented statistical data showing that as the population has increased by 10 percent over the last four years, the number of service calls to the police department has, in the same time period, increased by 15 percent.
The percentage of crimes per capita, Cowan said, has remained roughly the same since 2009. But he attributed that to the fact that he had reassigned three traffic officers and one community policing officer to patrol duty, and to officers working overtime to make up for the shortage in staffing.
Cowan said that having to reassign the traffic officers to patrol had resulted in “a decrease in traffic violations enforcement and an increase in crashes.”
Mayor Ken Shetter noted that the city made “a major investment in public safety” that included “good strategic and tactical decisions” as well as increased funding, and that the investment had paid off. But, he added, in recent years, “policing has had to take a back burner” while the city focused on other needs, including buying a new vehicle for the fire department and building a new fire station.
“Now,” Shetter said, “we’re at the point where ... our ability to remain committed to those tactical and strategic decisions we made and that are beginning to pay dividends is beginning to be compromised because of the growth in the city that has lead to increase in the demand in terms of calls for service.
“I think this investment is necessary to be able to maintain the effective strategies we’ve developed over the years,” the mayor said, “We’ve really needed to make this commitment for a while now. I think [adding three full-time police officers] is a smart move.”
Councilman Jerry Allen agreed, saying that “in the last couple of years, we have had to pay about 4,000 hours in overtime, which is about equal to three man years.
“I am all for getting three new folks on the force as soon as possible, getting [the police department] manned up so you don’t have to use all that overtime,” Allen said.
Councilman Matt Aiken told Chief Cowan that he “100 percent support[s]” adding officers to the police force. But he asked why Cowan was requesting that the council amend the budget now, rather than having asked for the additional funds when the budget was being decided last year.
“I did request three new people when the budget was being decided,” Cowan told him. “I asked for the funds last year and the year before, but it was denied.” He said it was because of budgetary constraints.
With that, Aiken himself then moved to approve the budget amendment, and the council members agreed with a unanimous vote.
Not counting the three newly approved positions, Burleson PD has 57 officers total, including 32 assigned to patrol. Cowan said that in the course of the last three-and-a-half years, the department had lost 11 officers — or 19 percent of the staff — to terminations, resignations or retirements. He said there are three recruits that recently graduated from the police academy but who will not be ready for active duty until May, and two vacancies.
The department, Cowan said, is responsible for policing 26.6 square miles of property, with 253 miles of streets to patrol. The department received 76,111 calls for service in 2012.
In other business
Also during the Tuesday night meeting Burleson council members:
zx Approved the preliminary plat for Phase 3 of the Plantation development. The council had previously tabled consideration of the plat as city staffers worked with the developer to address some concerns.
zx Approved a commercial site plan for Seattle’s Best Coffee to erect a shop at 961 S.W. Wilshire Blvd. The coffee shop, which will be housed in a prefabricated building, will be located in front of Walmart.