Wednesday, January 13, 2010

High turnover at small-town police departments poses logistical, accountability challenges

Via CLEAT, I noticed this recent item from the Waco Herald Tribune ("Small town police officers face different challenges," Jan. 4) describing high turnover rates among rural police departments. The story opens:

Working for small-town Central Texas police departments has its advantages, but a high turnover rate among officers in rural areas is one issue that many of those departments regularly contend with.

A small-town department might be a tight-knit group that experiences less threat in its day-to-day business. But the drawbacks of working for a small force include lower wages and less on-the-job training.

Employee data gathered by the Tribune-Herald from 24 small forces in the area show that at least 30 officers switched to another force in the area in the past five years. Of those who transferred, 15 months was the average amount of time they spent at one department, according to available data.

While some officers switch jobs because of relocations or life changes, many officers said higher wages and more excitement encourage rural police officers to move on to other departments.

“I think the reason there’s turnover in small towns is because everybody is looking for something better, always having ‘the grass is greener’-type syndrome, or wanting to go to a bigger agency or someplace that’s busier,” Moody police officer Richard Ray said.

Some officers change jobs to seek out danger, according to one officer quoted in the story: “They want the action . . . that’s why they became police officers.”

An angle that wasn't mentioned in the story but which is worth highlighting: Employment instability in small jurisdictions has in the past contributed to problems with so-called "gypsy cops," which is law enforcement slang for a peace officer who floats from department to department regardless of, or because of, misconduct or poor job performance. Frequently, such officers can readily find more police work because of high turnover in small, rural departments.

Tom Coleman in the Tulia cases - who US Senator John Cornyn once awarded Law Enforcement Officer of the Year honors before he was later convicted of perjury - was probably Texas' most famous gypsy cop. More recently, in Hockley County Sheriff's deputies were caught providing protection for a meth ring run by an outlaw motorcycle gang, a scenario straight out of the TV show Sons of Anarchy. So there's a potential accountability problem when small towns face high turnover and a limited hiring pool, over and above the logistical problem of having enough warm bodies to cover patrol and jailer duties.


Anonymous said...

There should be a law that a city may not establish a police department unless they have some minimum population (make it big). That will help make sure the department is professional. Small offices have high turnover because they can't get good people; and the city doesn't have the resources to get and keep good people.

Anonymous said...

2:33 under your analysis, small counties should not have sheriff's offices or jails either.

Small cities have resources, they are just not willing to pass on to taxpayers the costs associated with operating an agency.

Many residents in small towns pay more per month for basic rates
like tv cable, electricity, natural gas, water and sewer than they do in ad valorem taxes.

Under most general fund accounts where ad valorem taxes are deposited, taxpayers receive fire and police protection, maintenance of city streets, street lighting, animal control and parks and recreation just to name a few. In other words, they get more services from taxes than they do from the basic rates mentioned above.

It's a matter of one's spending priorities and what they expect in return.

Retired LE

Anonymous said...

Nope, just focusing on lousy city police departments. There must be some sort of law enforcement. So, the sheriff's office should cover a municipality until it is large enough to sustain a professional force.

Anonymous said...

Problem is the small counties are broke too.

Pols in austin will have to provide funding to the small counties or turn DPS into a STATE POLICE and fund it as such.

Anonymous said...

"or turn DPS into a STATE POLICE and fund it as such."

Shhhhhhh. Don't give them any ideas.

Anonymous said...

Most small county cops are small. They learn just enough in training to think they know it all. Usually second-hand citizens that can't make it otherwise they go to a local LE give a badge academy. How can you trust or respect a nurd that can hardly spell 'law'. Too bad but that it what Texas small counties have for COPS. Usually overweight and can't hit a target with a shotgun.

Anonymous said...

"Most small county cops are small. They learn just enough in training to think they know it all."

10:39 You fail to point out that many officers from small agencies, both municpial and county law enforcement, work at places called "training grounds." And these training grounds serve as recruitment havens for other agencies, including Texas DPS.

I should know. My agency has seen 3 deputies and two jailers leave and go to DPS, successfully complete the DPS academy and continue to work there today.

And these five would tell you they enjoyed working here but the low pay was the driving force behind their decision to leave.

Anonymous said...

The workforce for the most part for many careers has been exhausted for several years and not just now.

The work ethics and values of the greatest generation ever are now a thing of the past.

And imagine some of the bench warmers waiting in line to work complete with rainbow colored hair, eye, nose, lip and tongue piercings coupled with tattoos out the whazoo waiting to serve you!

Anonymous said...

How about a graduated authority level based on population?

Anonymous said...

So man up grits and go be a cop. Be a man for once in your life, even if it is in a small town.

Anonymous said...

I am truly laughing out loud, here. Self promotion at it's finest, my good man! Pulling out the "gypsy cop" reference, as though you coined the rich!
Your ignorance of law enforcement isn't shocking, only your arrogance.
P.S. You forgot to take credit for convincing Perry to shut down the TNCP. Operation Linebacker was your idea, wasn't it?

Anonymous said...

People. Please don't respond to the Anon.(10:00 & 10:56) and let's see how long it takes before she blows a fuse. BTW, she's wearing the red panties today.

Now, back to the Post. Packratt over at has researched this topic extensively. It's true, roving gypsy cops travel the country from station to station. Yes, some of them decide to for better pay and benefits and some do it because they were fired.

*Police unions sometimes step in and force the cities to re-hire the fired and the cycle starts all over.

Anonymous said...

The quality of police officers in small towns is a concern nationwide. The reason this problem exists is Small towns don't have any. They hire who they can..officers in small towns almost always move on to bigger agencies that pay more with career advancement opportunities. This causes small towns to never have a police department with experienced officers. Additionally, if a small town department has no real oversight built into misconduct is bound to happen...because...the officers that CAN move on to larger more professional departments do. I have seen one solution that really works. Some small towns in my area sign a contract with the county sheriff for law enforcement services. The small town pays the county for the officers and equipment in exchange for the deputies being assigned to that city. Those deputies are employees of the sheriff and bound by the larger department's policies, internal affairs and supervisors. They also have access to training. I believe this is the best solution.