Problems Persist At HPD Despite Pay Raises

I questioned months ago whether low pay and pay disparities were the only reasons officers were leaving or thinking about leaving the Huntersville Police Department (“HPD”). Spoiler alert – they aren’t. Low morale is another major problem within the department. And while the salary issue may have been addressed by the town board, our elected officials have been woefully inept at addressing the well-known issues at HPD causing low morale. The morale situation has become so bad at HPD that sources within the department have reached out to me for assistance even though they know they are risking their jobs by doing so. No officer has been willing to speak on the record at this time for fear of retaliation.

So, what are some of the issues affecting morale at HPD according to these sources? For starters: high ranking officers circumventing the 911 system to hide their personal problems, family members of high ranking officers being given preferential treatment after being lawfully stopped by HPD, rental vehicles supposedly needed for investigations being used like personal vehicles, officers abusing the secondary employment policy by getting paid for outside work while on the clock at HPD, EEOC complaints being filed, and just all around wasteful spending on things within the department that don’t make the community any safer. I’ve submitted multiple records requests related to a number of these items over the past week and plan to continue to investigate since the town board is unwilling to do any investigation of their own. I guess you could say I’m only taking the banal advice from the dais to say something if I see something…

Another source of ongoing contention is the abuse of the take home vehicle policy. This abuse has clearly continued with the tacit approval of the town board despite my reporting on the problems with the policy earlier this year (remember those $1,000 SSPBA contributions? I ‘member…). The current take home vehicle policy is not only costing taxpayers potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, it also continues to be used as a reward for favored officers even if they don’t qualify for a take home vehicle according to HPD’s own written policy. Officer T. Seth Hager continues to be allowed a take home vehicle paid for by Huntersville taxpayers for his 80+ mile round trip commute to work each day even though he has only worked a total of THREE (3) K9 deployments so far this year according to data from the KBCOPS system provided by a source within the department.

Where is the oversight from HPD command staff?

Finally, the issue of overtime pay. According to sources, the majority of overtime is going to higher ranking officers, primarily certain lieutenants. One source described the situation as follows, “Some lieutenants openly brag about all of their OT, but they’re not even the ones responding to road calls. Most days we have more officers sitting in the office than we do on the road and by 4pm it’s usually a ghost town at HQ.” [Huntersville PD HQ is located at 9630 Julian Clark Ave. in the business park.] With crime being so low in Huntersville it would seem odd that so much OT is required, especially if that OT is going to higher ranking officers sitting behind desks at HQ. “We just have way too many chiefs and not enough Indians, too many supervisors,” is the root of the problem according to one source. The top-heavy nature of the department is a problem the town board is very familiar with after having just sat through many hours of discussion about pay bands and pay raises. The frustration with the situation was obvious when another source explained that, “When you walk into HQ you can even see certain lieutenants watching Netflix or youtube on their computers so why do they need all that OT when they could just be spending time in the office during normal business hours actually doing their work?”

According to town staff, overtime pay is counted as compensation by the NC Local Governmental Employee’s Retirement System. Why does this matter? Because all NC taxpayers are on the hook for the massive $40 BILLION in unfunded liabilities for state retiree pension and health benefits. If only we had an elected official in Huntersville who supposedly understands pension issues and could help explain the consequences of pension padding to the other board members…

Where is the oversight from town hall?

When is the town finally going to require an independent audit of HPD?

What is it going to take for town hall to take some action, any action, to address these issues affecting morale with as much vigor as they addressed the issues of low pay and pay disparities?

There is more to come. I am currently waiting for responses to multiple records requests and will provide updates once more information is obtained. But, the worst part is what I’ve described above isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. You can only hide behind a hashtag for so long before the truth is revealed.

My offer still stands. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share about the problems within the department, feel free to reach out to me. Your privacy will be protected.

Eric

Firearm Brandished Inside New Huntersville Recreation Center

Sadly, schools aren’t the only soft targets we need to worry about locally. According to the incident report posted below, an unnamed individual brought a firearm into the new Huntersville Recreation Center around 2:30pm during basketball open gym back on Sunday, July 22 and threatened at least one person at the Rec Center.

Why has this incident not been reported by any local press and why did the town board not discuss this incident last week during their August 6 board meeting? How long have board members known about this incident? Have there been other incidents involving firearms at the Rec Center or other town facilities that haven’t been disclosed yet?

What steps, if any, have been taken by the town to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future? Was a risk management assessment ever done by the town at the new Rec Center to determine if security measures were appropriate?

Is it known whether the suspect is a Huntersville resident or someone from out of town? Has any description of the suspect been made public or posted at the Rec Center to alert staff/members in the event the suspect returns? Has the suspect even been banned from the facility? Has there been an arrest yet?

Does the town just need to install a larger NO GUNS ALLOWED sign since clearly the suspect didn’t see the sign currently posted at the entrance prohibiting guns otherwise they obviously wouldn’t have brought their gun inside? The incident report indicates the Rec Center has a sign posted at the entrance that no firearms are permitted inside – the sign must have been installed after this picture posted on facebook was taken during the grand opening ceremony back in January.

When I contacted the Rec Center to inquire about basketball open gym hours I was told by the person who answered the phone that basketball open gym had to be shut down for a while due to it being super booked, but to check back in September when it might be back open to the public. So, is town staff being instructed to misrepresent why basketball open gym hours aren’t available at the facility primarily set up for basketball if a member of the public inquires?

Would the town be better off selling this facility as soon as possible to the highest bidder so the town can both decrease its liability exposure and so taxpayers don’t have to continue to subsidize the recreational choices of others?

So many questions.

2018-07-22 Rec center incident report

Eric

HPD Take Home Vehicles – Cost or Benefit?

UPDATE: The town has confirmed there are also four (4) take home vehicles in the Engineering & Public Works Dept. I don’t know whether this means four employees have take home vehicles they use to drive to/from work every day, or if there are four vehicles available for use if needed. But, the town has also confirmed there is no written policy similar to HPD’s take home policy governing the use of take home vehicles by Engineering & Public Works. Why is the town board continuing to allow such a massive liability without any oversight??


When the news broke on July 16 that a Huntersville police officer was involved in an accident (the accident was not his fault) in his unmarked police vehicle while on his way to work, one detail that stood out to me was the location of the accident – at the Rowan and Cabarrus County line. Why was HPD officer Ryan Smith driving to work all the way from Rowan County in an HPD vehicle? I wanted to learn more about HPD’s take home vehicle policy (“Policy”) to find out if Officer Smith was the only officer driving such a long distance to and from work each day so I sent a records request to the town for more information. Based on the information I received, Officer Smith’s situation is clearly not the exception to the rule at HPD.

The current HPD Policy (or “Personally Assigned Cruiser Program”) became effective on August 8, 2016. [See attached below] The current Policy rescinded the prior take home vehicle policy under Chief Phillip Potter that was effective from Nov. 21, 2011 until August 7, 2016. While the prior policy and the current Policy are very similar, Chief Cleveland Spruill made four (4) significant revisions to the Policy that greatly increased the annual mileage for HPD’s vehicle fleet: 1) the new Policy uses an arbitrary “outermost town limits” standard to determine to/from distance from the officer’s primary residence instead of a fixed point like HPD headquarters under the prior policy; 2) the new Policy uses “the actual straight line distance” from the officer’s home to the outermost town limits to determine to/from distance instead of “the actual shortest direct driving route distance as measured on public roadways” as under the prior policy; 3) the new Policy increased the number of categories of officers permitted to take an HPD vehicle up to 20 miles from the outermost town limits to now include SWAT, crash re-constructionists, and animal control; and 4) the new Policy added a provision giving the chief full discretion to grant approval for distances greater than 20 miles from the outermost town limits under unique circumstances after “consultation” with the town manager (but not the town board).

2018-07-17 1.43 DIRECTIVE PAC PROGRAM

The changes made to the Policy under Chief Spruill clearly resulted in additional costs to taxpayers, so why has there never been a public discussion by the town board about whether the additional costs of this new Policy outweigh any benefits? Additional costs such as increased liability for accidents and higher insurance costs, increased costs for fuel, increased wear/tear on the vehicle and higher maintenance costs, and the increased costs related to the frequency of needing new police vehicles once they hit a certain mileage mark (e.g., 100K miles). Don’t just take my word for it, here’s what Davidson’s Chief Penny Dunn had to say about the issue in an email from March 21, 2018 to one of her sergeants about their take home policy, “My understanding is there is a 10 mile limit, but officers are living and driving the vehicles further than 10 miles. My concerns are not just related to the cost for gas, wear/tear on the vehicle, increased mileage on the vehicle, and increased risk when driven further than our stated policy. There is also the impression that officers can live anywhere contrary to being close enough for a reasonable response time for emergencies…”

Thankfully, Officer Smith wasn’t injured in his recent accident, but his vehicle will still need to be repaired or possibly replaced. Have any other accidents taken place in an HPD vehicle during officer travel to/from work since the new Policy went into effect in August 2016 and, if so, how much has this cost the town? What if a major at fault accident involving significant property damage and/or personal injury takes place while an HPD officer is driving his take home vehicle to/from work pursuant to the current Policy – is the town prepared for this responsibility?

Do the costs outweigh the benefits?

Has the Policy actually increased officer visibility resulting in a deterrent effect? Has the Policy actually increased time efficiency of officers or resulted in quicker response times to emergencies? Does HPD make any efforts or have any ability to actually track the mileage on their vehicles related to travel to/from work? Has any audit ever been performed on the HPD vehicle fleet with regards to mileage that is not work-related, vehicle maintenance, or fuel costs since the Policy went into effect? Is there any independent verification by superior officers of the distance submitted by an officer on their Take Home Vehicle Request Form, or is it up to each officer to determine their own distance from their residence to/from the outermost town limits? If each officer makes their own determination of distance to/from the outermost town limits, are there any officers currently taking home vehicles in violation of the distance limits in HPD’s Policy? One google map printout, for example, shows a “straight line” distance of 19.8 miles from a location in Gaston County to an arbitrary point on the west side of Huntersville near Latta Plantation. But, if you barely move the computer mouse to measure distance on google maps to another arbitrary point on the west side of Huntersville near Latta it’s very, very easy to exceed the 20 mile from the outermost town limit threshold.

Per Sections A.(C.)(3) and G. of HPD’s Policy – it seems fair to categorize the assignment of a take home vehicle as more of a perk or fringe benefit rather than a necessity for officers who need take home vehicles or newer fleet vehicles the most for work related purposes and not just commuting to/from work. Would it be more beneficial to assign take home vehicles based upon an officer’s job requirements/duties and not simply as a perk or fringe benefit of promotion? And are there any unreported HPD vehicles being used for travel to/from work that need to have their mileage audited – e.g., vehicles used for undercover purposes or vehicles obtained with asset forfeiture/equitable sharing funds?

Again, do the costs outweigh the benefits?

According to the most current HPD Personally Assigned Cruiser list I received on July 19, 95 officers were listed (it’s unclear if the list includes any non-sworn HPD employees) and 86 of those 95 were assigned a take home vehicle. 27/86 (31.3%) are listed as having a take home vehicle and live within the town limits. 28/86 are listed as having a take home vehicle and living within 20 miles of the outermost town limits, but six (6) of the 28 are listed as “remote park” so they park their police vehicle at a pre-approved location and then drive their personal vehicle the remaining distance to their residence. So, 22/86 (25.5%) drive a take home vehicle to a residence within 20 miles of the outermost town limits. Leaving the largest percentage listed, 31/86 (36%), having a take home vehicle and living within 12 miles of the outermost town limits (the limit for all other non-command officers).

Based on information I received from the town, the officer driving the farthest distance one way to work appears to be Officer T. Seth Hager. A website printout that appears to be dated Dec. 19, 2016 shows a “straight line” distance of 36 miles from Officer Hager’s residence to 9615 Northcross Center Ct. in Huntersville (behind the Lowes in the Target shopping center off Sam Furr which is apparently where Officer Hager reports for duty…). If you calculate the actual driving distance from Officer Hager’s residence to that same address in Huntersville using google maps, the shortest driving distance is 42.6 miles – a difference of approx. 6.6 miles, or 13.2 miles round trip.

In case it’s not obvious, the problem with using a “straight line” to calculate distance traveled for an automobile is that automobiles can’t fly – yet.

Officer Hager’s situation is unique in that he is the only officer who the chief has specifically approved (with concurrence from former town manager Greg Ferguson) for travel at a greater distance than allowed under the Policy, but a number of other officers travel nearly as far to/from work as Officer Hager on a daily basis. The officer involved in the recent accident, Officer Ryan Smith, for example, reports a “straight line” distance of 17.7 miles to the outermost town limits, but if you calculate the actual driving distance from his residence to HPD HQ (since no specific outermost town limit address was used by Officer Smith unlike Officer Hager), the shortest driving distance is 29.3 miles. And the same underestimation of mileage using a “straight line” calculation could be demonstrated for the officers coming from Bessemer City, Kings Mountain, Sherrills Ford, Iron Station, Lincolnton, China Grove, Catawba, or Waxhaw.

The town board most recently approved the expenditure of $177,835 to help pay part of the costs for eleven (11) new police vehicles during the Nov. 20, 2017 town board meeting (this amount had already been approved in the HPD budget for FY17/18). What percentage/portion of these eleven new vehicles were necessary, even in part, due to the additional mileage being placed on old vehicles solely related to travel to/from work pursuant to the current Policy? Someone in the town’s finance department with access to complete details on every take home vehicle could easily come up with an accounting breakdown of the effect of this Policy on the number of new vehicles HPD needs on an annual basis.

Interestingly, every “straight line” map I received in response to my request for information, except for Officer Seth Hager’s (which was dated Dec. 19, 2016), was a google map printout with a Google copyright date of 2018 and one printout even appeared to be dated the same day I submitted my request! I just can’t figure out why all the google map printouts would be dated 2018 when the current policy went into effect all the way back in August 2016??

Compared with other local departments, HPD’s Policy is definitely not an outlier, but HPD’s Policy should still be judged on its own merits. Cornelius allows take home vehicles within 20 miles of town limits, Mooresville within 20 miles of “contiguous” town limits or at the chief’s discretion, Davidson doesn’t yet have a formal written policy on distance – but their department allows take home vehicles up to 10 miles of town limit, Matthews no more than 15 miles from “contiguous” town limits, CMPD allows marked vehicles up to a 45 mile radius in Mecklenburg and counties contiguous with Mecklenburg (I wasn’t able to easily interpret their policy on unmarked vehicles), and the MCSO allows for a 50 mile radius from the government center in Charlotte. From what I could tell reviewing the other policies only HPD’s policy specifies how to calculate distance to/from work – it would be interesting to learn if any department still uses the shortest driving distance standard rather than a straight line.

One final point – the MCSO’s policy appeared to be the only policy with language pertaining to the IRS. MCSO’s policy states, “The County will comply with guidelines from IRS Publication 15B (Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits) to determine the value, if any, of the commuting use of a vehicle provided to an employee during the commute certification benefit year…” and goes on to state, “Personal use of an employer-provided vehicle is defined by the IRS as a taxable non-cash fringe benefit. These regulations apply to employees who drive County vehicles to and from home. Employees driving a County vehicle that is not exempt from the take-home rule will be subject to applicable taxes.” Even if most or all of HPD’s take home vehicles are considered a working condition benefit excluded from taxable income, wouldn’t it be smart to include similar language in our Policy in case the town or an HPD employee does have some tax liability for a take home vehicle?

But just because the IRS doesn’t consider a take home vehicle for law enforcement a taxable benefit doesn’t mean it’s not a huge benefit nonetheless. How many other town employees (or anyone reading this) get a take home vehicle so they don’t have to put mileage and wear/tear on their personal vehicle for work travel or worry about having to pay for gas during the work week?

The current HPD Policy has been in effect for almost two years now with no oversight from the town board (no oversight of the town’s emergency services seems to be a theme…). Since it’s clear the town board doesn’t want to make time to discuss how to protect the residents of Huntersville from corrupt officials in the future by enacting a new bid policy for contracts, maybe they can at least make time during their board meeting next week to discuss whether this Policy is a cost or a benefit to Huntersville residents.

And speaking of police vehicle mileage, how many additional miles is the used HPD armored vehicle going to rack up next week when it’s paraded around for National Night Out? Gotta keep the miles on that odometer low so it holds its value!

Eric

HPD Chief And Two Other Officers Involved In At Fault Accidents

Buried in the consent agenda (where transparency goes to die) for last Monday night’s town board meeting was item 10.B – Approve budget amendment recognizing insurance revenue in the amount of $28,493.51 and appropriate to the Police Department’s auto insurance account. No, HPD hasn’t gone into the insurance business and that $28K doesn’t represent premiums from selling insurance policies; this money simply represents claims being paid on HPD’s insurance policy with the NC League of Municipalities. I know the finance department might consider this “revenue” because it’s money coming into the town, but the town should at least stop referring to claims being paid out as “revenue” on the agenda lest the town wants to make it seem as if our officers being involved in accidents where they are at fault is some sort of net positive for the town.

The summary page for this agenda item in the full agenda packet stated this $28K involved eight accident claims, three of which the town was at fault. I requested more information from the town and was provided the documents attached below. [I have redacted the names of the other drivers involved.] Chief Spruill was involved in a collision on March 1, 2018, Officer Daniel Johnson, Jr. was involved in a collision on April 16, 2018, and Officer Bergin was involved in a single car accident during an ice storm on January 17, 2018.

How do these accidents affect the town’s insurance rates? Were any citations issued as a result of these accidents? How many at fault accidents have HPD officers been involved in this year and how does HPD’s at fault accident rate compare with other departments statewide? What, if any, remedial or disciplinary measures are taken by HPD when an officer is involved in an at fault accident? Just a few of the questions that could have been asked from the dais Monday night if this item wasn’t buried in consent.

2018-06-20 HPD accdt reports

Eric

Commissioners Walsh And Boone Have Some Questions To Answer

People have been asking me ever since Monday’s town board workshop meeting whether we elected Commissioners Dan Boone and Nick Walsh to represent the interests of the entire town or just the Huntersville Police Department? Many of these same people are also asking why Commissioners Walsh and Boone seem to be so intent on advocating for raises for HPD instead of raises for all town employees? I have plenty of questions of my own for Commissioners Boone and Walsh, but this article isn’t about me and my questions, this is an effort to get questions answered for the many, many people who have been reaching out to me with questions this week, questions that I have been unable to answer.

The main question people have been asking is what is the problem Commissioners Walsh and Boone think they are trying to solve? Commissioner Boone began the discussion of police pay raises Monday by describing an email he sent to all other commissioners with 14 questions so they could all have the same information to “solve this” – but he never defined what problem needed solving. People have asked me if the problem is just about HPD losing officers to CMPD then why is it so difficult for Commissioners Boone and Walsh to answer simple questions about HPD staffing? For example, people have asked me how many officers did HPD lose to CMPD last year, and are we losing more officers to CMPD (or other police departments) than is typical in a year, and if the board does agree to this “step plan” and pay increase that brings us closer to the starting pay of CMPD will this solve HPD’s staffing issue?

A resident of Huntersville even attempted to ask Commissioner Walsh about this issue directly at his town commissioner facebook page after Commissioner Walsh stated on April 10, “We need to stand up for the police department and support a new pay plan. This will slow down the exodus of officers we are currently experiencing.” This resident asked what seemed to be a very simple question, “How many HPD officers are currently exodusing the department?” It’s been three days and still no answer from Commissioner Walsh! People have been asking me why Commissioner Walsh won’t respond to such a simple question given how much he campaigned on communication between the town and residents and that making efforts to increase the quality of communications to the residents and businesses of Huntersville to get citizen input prior to making decisions that affect the town was one of his major campaign platforms?

People have asked me what if maybe the problem that needs solving at HPD isn’t actually related to officers leaving because of pay, what if the problem is more complicated and related to problems within the department, problems, for example, that have failed to address why HPD could have officers earning more than sergeants. Some people have even asked me how many HPD members are even in favor of moving to a step plan style pay schedule as opposed to pay bands or other pay schedules? These same people also ask how many steps are going to be included in the new step plan if the town moves in that direction? And one question I keep hearing is how much will pay raises for HPD cost the town in the long-term since higher pay equals higher retirement benefits. So many good questions by the people, so few answers.

People have asked me about the company line being pushed by both Commissioners Boone and Walsh that every HPD officer the town loses costs the town $100K. How are they calculating this figure people are asking? Even town manager Jackie Huffman can’t figure out how they are arriving at $100K and she’s real smart when it comes to numbers. Near the end of Monday’s workshop meeting after yet another reference by Commissioner Boone to the alleged $100K cost of officers leaving, Mrs. Huffman politely attempted to question how Commissioners Boone and Walsh arrived at this figure and said she struggles to see how we get to that $100K. She made it clear she was not in favor of turnover at HPD, but she did not want to be intimidated by a figure she couldn’t back up. People have also asked me if it’s ironic that Commissioners Walsh and Boone are attempting to convince our town manager to give pay raises to HPD to stop CMPD from poaching our officers from Huntersville when Huntersville poached our town manager and finance director from Cornelius?

And it’s not just the people asking questions, even the mayor had a question for Commissioners Walsh and Boone on Monday about their step pay plan, “What if it means a 2-cent tax increase?” To which Commissioner Walsh excitedly replied, “What if it does?” I’ve had a lot of people ask me about that remark from Commissioner Walsh and why he’s so eager to raise our taxes? A few other people have also asked me about Commissioner Walsh’s reply to Commissioner Boone’s email asking about support for the step plan. Commissioner Walsh reportedly replied, “They’ve [HPD] asked for it, give it to them!” These people are worriedly asking me if Commissioners Boone and Walsh are so eager to give HPD what they’re asking for because they each received a $1,000 campaign contribution from the Southern States Police Benevolent Association? I’ve tried to assure the people asking me this that our current town board members are above reproach and would never act in response to receiving a $1,000 campaign contribution.

Finally, a handful of people have asked me if it’s true that the town is considering changing the unofficial town hashtag from #OneTownOneTeam to #OneTownOneTeamOnlyOneDeptGetsARaise? I have told these people there is absolutely no truth to this rumor whatsoever.

The people have spoken and it’s clear they want answers from Commissioners Walsh and Boone. Will the people get their answers before this year’s budget is approved?

Eric

Are Local Police Departments Really Struggling With a Staffing Issue Part 2

Another week, another fake news story from the Herald Citizen. The only remaining weekly newspaper in the area ran an embarrassingly one-side cover story two weeks ago asking how local police departments in Mooresville, Cornelius, Huntersville, and Davidson can compete with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (“CMPD”) when it comes to staffing. And last week the paper essentially ran a press release from the Mecklenburg Chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (“SSPBA”) about police-to-citizen ratios, but slapped a byline with Lee Sullivan’s name on it and called it a story. Mr. Sullivan was the writer of both recent “stories” in the Herald. Running a press release providing only a single viewpoint used to be frowned upon in the world of journalism, but that was back when real journalists still existed. [Note: I will no longer directly link to the Herald from my site when referencing articles. If you want to give them the clicks, you can visit their site directly.]

Oh, and did I mention the Mecklenburg Chapter of the SSPBA also ran a full-page ad in last week’s paper encouraging people to contact elected officials in Huntersville and support a pay raise for the Huntersville Police Department (“HPD”)? Full-page ads in the Herald aren’t cheap. I wonder if the dues paying members of the Mecklenburg Chapter of the SSPBA who don’t work in Huntersville support the decision to use their dues to support raises just for HPD officers?

They say perception is reality and the perception now is that if the Herald provides favorable coverage of an issue/individual/organization that coverage will be rewarded with advertising revenues. The Herald is no longer in the business of reporting news, it has now moved into the business of shaping opinion by reporting only carefully selected facts in their “stories.” At least the former Citizen made an effort, albeit weak, to separate their news and opinion sections with their “Talkers” column. The Herald needs to address this publicly if they want to maintain any credibility as a news organization. Or, they could decide to embrace their new role as the official propaganda arm of local government and just rename the paper the Herald Comrade.

Notably, the SSPBA reported spending $36,548.48 during the 2017 municipal elections in NC according to their most recent campaign finance report at the State Board of Elections. This includes approx. $8,000 to local candidates in Huntersville and Cornelius. Five out of six of your current Huntersville town board members received $1,000 contributions from the SSPBA: Bales, Boone, Gibbons, Hines, and Walsh; Phillips is the only commissioner not to receive a contribution. Joe Sailers also received $1,000. Will these $1,000 contributions have any effect on the decision by the town board to award raises to HPD officers this year?

Since the most recent Herald story focused on police-to-citizen ratios instead of just comparing starting base pay figures, a few thoughts about this ratio issue.

Mr. Sullivan describes “an officer-to-resident ratio recommended by the FBI” of 2.23 to 2.51 sworn officers per 1,000 residents in his story. Mr. Sullivan does not, however, provide any citation or source for this “recommended” ratio. After researching this supposed FBI staff level recommendation, I can only assume the 2.23 to 2.51 ratio comes from a 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics report summarizing law enforcement employment data. The second page of the report contains a table showing the national estimate of sworn officers per 1,000 U.S. residents from the years 1992-2012 ranging from 2.23 in 1992 to 2.51 in 2008. Interestingly, a footnote to this table states, “Counts provided from the UCR police employee data are based on a convenience sample of agencies that voluntarily reported to the FBI and do not represent a national sample [emphasis added].” Nowhere in this report does it state this range is to be used as a recommendation for staffing levels. The report also states on page 3, “In each year from 1992 through 2012, more than two-thirds of the agencies that reported employment data served jurisdictions with a population of less than 10,000.” Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison with the current estimated population of Huntersville being over 60,000.

I welcome a response from the Herald or Mr. Sullivan with the source of the reported FBI recommended staffing ratio.

The most recent police employee data I could find at the FBI’s website from their 2016 Crime in the United States report (the police employee data for 2017 hasn’t been released yet) also provided some helpful information. According to the report, the nationwide average of sworn officers was 2.4 per 1,000 residents. This 2.4 figure does fit within the range reported by Mr. Sullivan, however, the “user’s note” included with the report seemed to contradict the notion that this was any type of recommendation. The “user’s note” states in part, “Because of law enforcement’s varied service requirements and functions, as well as the distinct demographic traits and characteristics of each jurisdiction, readers should use caution when drawing comparisons between agencies’ staff levels based on police employment data from the UCR Program. In addition, the data presented here reflect existing staff levels and should not be interpreted as preferred officer strengths recommended by the FBI [emphasis added].”

There are many recognized staffing models for local police departments and the population or per-capita based staffing model has it detractors. For example, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (“IACP”) published an article on this issue a few years ago that explained their position against using police to population ratios as a basis for agency staffing decisions. “Ratios, such as officers-per-thousand population, are totally inappropriate as a basis for staffing decisions. Accordingly, they have no place in the IACP methodology. Defining patrol staffing allocation and deployment requirements is a complex endeavor which requires consideration of an extensive series of factors and a sizable body of reliable, current data.”

You can also read two other reports on this issue here and here from the International City/County Management Association that are critical of solely using population or per-capita based staffing models as a basis for staffing decisions. Even Cornelius Chief Bence Hoyle recognizes that population ratios aren’t the ideal way to make staffing decisions. The Herald reported that Hoyle said he knows about the FBI recommendations and other statistics concerning police staffing, but he believes the type of community, and the type of calls for service [emphasis added] are factors that merit more consideration.

The town shouldn’t incentivize higher crime rates by punishing HPD for their good work in helping to keep crime at historically low levels by reducing staff or cutting pay. But, maybe before deciding whether to award pay raises to HPD officers, the town board needs to determine what problem they’re actually trying to solve with a pay raise? As I discussed in my last article, the argument for raises based on parity with CMPD’s starting salary is based on unfounded assumptions. And as I’ve just outlined above, clearly the argument for raises based on an officer-to-resident ratio is also not convincing. Maybe the Herald will have yet another “story” out this week with a new problem being faced by HPD and other local departments that will require further analysis.

Here’s a novel idea – why don’t we actually ask our officers what they think about these issues and what problems at HPD may need to be addressed instead of simply relying on information in ads and social media posts by an interested party like the SSPBA? Surely the town could come up with an anonymous survey option to address officer concerns about retribution?

Huntersville simply cannot win an arms race with Charlotte when it comes to officer pay. The FY17 operating budget in Charlotte was $634.9 million! The approved FY17/18 operating budget in Huntersville was $35.5 million. Do we really think CMPD and the Charlotte city council will sit idly by while their 157 open positions remain unfilled if HPD is able to raise it’s starting base pay to match CMPD’s?  It’s unfortunate the SSPBA and HPD seem to be taking advantage of the staffing issues Huntersville is currently facing due to the recent resignation of the town manager to push through a significant raise for employees in one department of the town. Again, let’s hope the Huntersville town board takes the time to analyze the complex issue of appropriately staffing the police department before simply throwing more money at the problem in the next budget.

Eric

Are Local Police Departments Really Struggling With a Staffing Issue?

It has been a few weeks since I’ve been motivated to write about much, but budget season in Huntersville is just around the corner so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about soon enough. Thankfully the local paper is a never-ending source of motivation whenever I’m in a slump. Serious question time – now that the Herald bought the Citizen and we only have one local weekly paper, does that mean the Herald Citizen is now the “only experienced, professional, legitimate news outlet in the Lake Norman region?”

The cover story of the Herald Citizen last week alerted readers to the alleged struggle all four local police departments (Mooresville, Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson) are currently facing over staffing issues. The story featured quotes from the chiefs of all four departments expressing similar concerns over staffing. But don’t worry, according to the author this feature story was totally not a coordinated media blitz by local police departments since he lets us know that these concerns were expressed in the same way in separate conversations without knowing what the others said.

Let’s start by admiring the lengthy but brilliant analogy (the reader knows it’s brilliant because the author even quotes Chief Hoyle agreeing with the analogy) used by the author comparing the alleged hiring struggles of local police departments to a small-market baseball team losing a talented prospect to the loathsome Yankees of New York. In this analogy, the four local police departments are your AAA ball club and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (“CMPD”) is the Yankees, get it? Except maybe the analogy isn’t quite as good as Chief Hoyle says it is because small-market teams expect to lose their best prospects to the big league and even the loathsome Yankees have to compete with other “large-market” teams to retain their best players. In addition, even the loathsome Yankees and their vast resources can’t pay a high enough salary to prevent players from getting injured or retiring. And maybe the four local police departments just can’t offer the same opportunities that CMPD can no matter their starting base salary. What if an officer’s career goal is to be the best murder police in the world (yes, I learned everything I know about police work from watching The Wire)? Fortunately our local departments won’t be able to help that officer achieve that goal, while CMPD offers far too many opportunities for an officer that wants to be good murder police.

Maybe the 140 or so words used on this brilliant analogy could have been better used asking some specific questions about the staffing issues facing the local departments instead of just running a story full of unfounded assumptions.

Here are a few suggested questions for the local police departments that the author can ask in a follow-up piece, and for Huntersville in particular since Chief Spruill states that his department is the most vulnerable.

  • How many officers did you lose last year to CMPD? How many officers did you lose the past 5 years to CMPD for comparison?
  • How many officers, if any, have you lost to CMPD since they announced their lateral hiring push back in November?
  • How many officers did you lose last year to retirement?
  • How many officers did you lose last year to relocation, being hired by departments other than CMPD (including private security or police), injury, leaving policing for another profession, being hired by the Yankees, or any other reason?
  • If each respective town board approves a budget that includes salary increases for officers to match the starting base pay of CMPD, will this solve your staffing issues?
  • How many current officers in your department were lateral hires from other departments? Should your department be concerned about poaching officers from other towns that don’t have the budget/resources to pay their officers the same starting base pay you pay your officers?
  • None of the local departments list more than 3 current openings, while CMPD lists 157. Chief Dunn is quoted as saying that staffing issues in Davidson might be putting officers at risk because the number of officers on the street is below what it needs to be. Does this mean CMPD officers could be at risk as well due to their staffing issues and, if so, do the local departments have any obligation not to hinder attempts by CMPD to remedy their own staffing issues?
  • Is CMPD’s staffing issue resulting in higher crime in neighboring towns like Huntersville? If so, what is the best way to remedy this problem?
  • Is it possible any of the local departments are currently overstaffed and could afford to lose a few officers to CMPD?

Complex issues require serious analysis to reach solutions. Let’s hope each town board takes the time to analyze the complex issue of appropriately staffing their respective police departments before simply throwing more money at the problem in the next budget.

Eric