• 50°

STEPHEN HEMELT — Incentives needed to battle shortfall of PAPD officers

Port Arthur needs help filling the ranks of its police department with the quality law enforcement officers local residents deserve.

To hear Ron Burton explain it, the city recently started with a pool of 200 applicants applying for fulltime employment with the Port Arthur Police Department.

According to the city manager, of those applicants, 70 were accepted.

“By the time we were through the screening and drug tests that were necessary to those who were qualified to pursue the exam, I think we got down to eight,” Burton told city council members this month. “By the time we were ready for those who actually passed the exam, we were down to zero.”

In the blink of an eye, 200 applicants became zero candidates.

Burton told the Port Arthur City Council that administrators are doing everything they can to recruit candidates to fill open positions within the police department.

He mentioned a recent good-faith effort that included the city partnering with the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation to recruit police that also failed to generate a significant employment spike.

“We are trying to leave no stone unturned,” Burton said. “We are trying to use every possible strategy to see how we can attract specifically, even more so, residents from Port Arthur who we think have the requisite knowledge and qualifications.”

To understand the scope of the problem, Councilman Thomas Kinlaw III asked city staff how many officers the police department is down compared to positions budgeted.

The answer fluctuates, but is resting at approximately 12 right now, the council was told. Administrators said the department is budgeted to carry 101 officers, a number that does not include sergeants and lieutenants.

To address the concern, the city council approved a resolution authorizing the city manager to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Port Arthur Police Association regarding incentives for newly hired police officers.

Exact details of the incentives were not spelled out during a city council discussion March 2, and Port Arthur Newsmedia has requested a copy of the approved agreement.

Burton said he and Police Chief Tim Duriso have discussed the staffing shortfall and looked at alternative means of attracting individuals who are seasoned peace officers that may be from Port Arthur and are working outside the city. The incentive program is their plan.

“Other cities are doing the very same thing,” Burton said. “There is nothing new we are asking, but we are trying to attract the best and brightest of our citizens who have the requisite qualifications.”

Mayor Pro Tem Charlotte Moses said the city used similar efforts in 2003 and 2005, adding some officers need the incentive to finance a move locally from other locations.

“I’m sure when these officers are hired, they will be dispersed to neighborhoods, but you have to have the staff to be able to disperse them into different sections,” Moses said.

Duriso told the city council the incentive program wouldn’t necessarily put the PAPD above other law enforcement agencies but would put Port Arthur on a level playing field.

“We want nothing but the best for our citizens in Port Arthur,” Duriso said. “By offering this incentive, we are going to attract the best. Right now, we are competing with all the agencies around us. We have a shortfall in certain areas, and I think this will help us overcome our shortfall.”

The PAPD celebrated the swearing in of Donald Jackson as a probationary police officer on Feb. 24. If this incentive program works, there will be plenty more announcements to make.

The residents and businesspeople within Port Arthur would welcome such news.

Stephen Hemelt is president of Port Arthur Newsmedia and publisher of the Port Arthur News. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com or 409-721-2445.