Monday, July 14, 2008

Next DPS leader faces trooper shortages, low morale

On the heels of the announced retirement of Texas Department of Public Safety Colonel Tommy Davis last week, the SA Express News published a story yesterday describing problems of understaffing and declining morale at the agency ("Troopers say they are just fatigued," July 13):

Some troopers concede they don't look for illegal drugs during a traffic stop or check to see if the motorist is a convicted sex offender violating his probation.

“I'm not going to look for dope. ... I'm not going to look for anything else because if I do, I'm not going to get enough speeding tickets, I'm not going to get enough seat-belt tickets, and I'm not going to get DWI arrests,” said the North Texas trooper.

More complicated violations resulting in arrests means “you don't have the magic number of speeders and you get hammered (by superiors),” the trooper said.

The short-staffing means troopers are rotating through South Texas shifts to beef up border security as part of Operation Border Star. The rotations involve 13-hour days for 15 days, now expanding to 28 days, with no more than a single day off every five or six days, they said.

A Dallas-area DPS sergeant with nearly 20 years in the agency — who is counting the months and days before his exit — says morale is “the lowest it's ever been.”

“DPS brass doesn't have a clue what our needs are, for the most part. Most of them are so far removed, and we've become so bureaucratic. Stuff that I used to be able to just go out and do, I now have to write a memo that I'm thinking about doing this, and then I have to write another memo after I did it,” he said.

One of the agency's core problems, he said, is the layering of new responsibilities without funding to meet them.

The agency has 250 officer vacancies and cannot recruit enough candidates to fill them. Just over 100 graduates from the DPS training academy will join the agency this fall. But the hole will get bigger because of retirements — and nearly 25 percent of DPS graduates quit before their 10th anniversary, according to department statistics.

I was unaware DPS' staffing woes had become so severe, though nearly every law enforcement agency in the state of any size is having trouble recruiting officers. To my mind, some of the shortfalls result from mission creep (e.g., the Border Star operation) that's diverted DPS troopers' attention away from the agency's historic law enforcement priorities.

The story also revealed sources of internal DPS criticism over the Governor's border security initiative, which appears to be causing significant disruption for DPS officers with little tangible result:

The state's Operation Border Star is a particular irritant because it requires troopers to temporarily move to the border region — away from their families — causing shortages in other areas.

A veteran trooper in West Texas the operation a huge waste of time and money.

“It is not productive. It is being used for political purposes,” the trooper said.

He recently worked a 13-hour night shift during which he stopped one motorist for speeding.

“Not another vehicle came down that highway the entire night. I sat in my vehicle and did nothing.” he said.

Sounds like Colonel Davis' replacement will have quite a job on their hands to restore morale and refocus the agency on its core mission.


Crusty said...

"More complicated violations resulting in arrests means “you don't have the magic number of speeders and you get hammered (by superiors),” the trooper said."

Umm, weren't quota's outlawed some time ago?

Anonymous said...

There are many DPS Law Enforcement personnel that have been called to active duty (with the military). Are these FTE (full time employee) positions counted as vacant, In addition to the "true" vacancies?

I ask this question having worked with and in state agencies and I know how the numbers game is played.

Retied 2004

W W Woodward said...

Crusty: Ticket quotas were declared unlawful some thirty - forty years ago. However .....

True story:

A longtime friend of mine was a Texas peace officer and a chief of police in a small west Texas town before he joined the DPS/THP. He spent most of his time on the highways being a peace officer rather than a law enforcement officer. He took stranded motorists into the nearest town where they could find a mechanic, get their flat tires repaired, find gasoline for their empty fuel tanks. And then he took them back to their cars and stayed with them until he knew they would be able to continue their journeys safely.

As a result of the time my friend spent on public safety actions his tickets and DWI arrests didn't match up with the enforcement activities of other troopers in the sgt. sector and he was encouraged to find employment elsewhere. He resigned from DPS and joined a university police department and eventually moved to the university's medical center's police department where he is due to retire soon, if he hasn't already.

I would like to divulge my friend's name because he is a representative of what a real Texas Peace Officer should be but I haven't cleared the forgoing account with him.

From the information in Grits' post the it appears that things haven't changed in the Department of ? Public Safety ?.

Anonymous said...

The title of this article could apply to any agency within the state of Teaxs.
Any new chief/director/depatment head, etc., will face the same problem: Unhappy, overworked and underpaid employees!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Woodward, kudos for pointing out what so many don't seem to realize--there is a difference between a law enforcement officer and a "peace" officer.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see all the locations that they give tickets at. Not to locate speed traps, but to see how many state highways and roads vs local neighborhoods and communities get state attention. Also, the time of day or night.
I see troopers all over a section of I-45 near Houston on Saturday and Sunday mornings, pulling over mall shoppers, yet never when there is high volume traffic, accidents, aggressive drivers etc.

Don Dickson said...

I once had a Trooper client whose annual evaluation stated that his "volume of acceptable work" (read: number of tickets) was unacceptable.

Well duhhh....the guy had spent eighteen weeks of the year out of state conducting training classes at other police departments.

Quotas are indeed prohibited by law, but one man's "quota" is another man's "goal" or "objective." And the law applies only to numbers of citations, not to warnings or arrests. It is actually NOT against the law to evaluate a Trooper on the basis of the number of his "contacts," and this is done with regularity.

During a recent discharge appeal in which I represented the accused, a supervisor testified that when reviewing my client's in-car videos, he could hear paper shuffling which he knew from experience was the sound of the Trooper counting his warnings and citations for the day. He said he knew that sound from having done it himself. He steadfastly denied the existence of any "quota," but could offer no explanation why my client, and even himself, would be a compulsive ticket-counter.

Anonymous said...

I'll kiss your bare hiney if you are man enough to get accepted to the DPS academy and graduate from it.

True story. Scott is big on talk and small on action.