The Brownwood Police Department gained 13 percent pay hikes for its officers, two new patrol positions and an evidence room technician — a position police say is needed in the wake of lost evidence — in the city’s budget for 2007-’08.
Those were among the provisions for the police department in the city’s $29.34 million budget, which council members adopted Tuesday.
The budget also has funds for 13 percent pay hikes for the Brownwood Fire Department and 3 percent pay raises for all other city employees. The allocation of the fire department pay hikes will be determined in negotiations between the city and firefighters, council members said.
Pay raises for the police department will be “across the board,” the council agreed.
Several things became apparent as council members discussed the budget and other police matters with Assistant Police Chief Garry Page:
The patrol division is likely going to begin working 12-hour shifts, a change police officials believe will reduce overtime and put more officers on the street. The police department’s administration seeks the abolishment of one of the department’s two lieutenant’s positions after Lt. Bill Stirman retires later this month. Council members cited lack of supervision as among the factors in problems with the evidence room, and want the police department’s administration to develop written standard operating procedures.
Beginning Oct. 1, all of the department’s commissioned police officers see their base salaries — not including longevity and certification pay — increased by the 13 percent.
Base salaries currently range from $2,217 to $2,404 a month for patrolmen and detectives, according to City Hall documents.
Corporals earn $2,541 a month in base pay, sergeants earn $2,813, lieutenants earn $3,321, the assistant chief earns $3,681 and the chief earns $4,278 a month.
Evidence room technician
In their budget workshops last month, council members rejected a police administration request for an evidence room technician. The Texas Department of Public Safety conducted an audit of the evidence room and said an evidence technician is “desperately” needed to maintain proper custody and security of the evidence room, then-Interim City Manager James Campbell wrote in a July 31 memo to the council.
On Tuesday, council members heeded Page’s request to reinstate the evidence technician into the budget in exchange for eliminating two new cars. The new cars would have replaced the aging vehicles Page and Police Chief Virgil Cowin drive.
Finance Director Walter Middleton said he would take $37,000 out of the budget for the two cars, and put just under $29,000 back in for the evidence room technician.
Local officials requested an audit of the evidence room after questions arose about former Brownwood police detective Britt Brownlee, who had served as evidence custodian before being indicted and later sent to prison on a federal drug charge.
Two cases were dismissed because drug evidence seized by police could not be found in the evidence room.
“We’ve got a lot of embarrassment over this,” Page said. “ … Criminal cases had to be dismissed because we had an officer that went bad. … We need to do whatever we can to assure this doesn’t ever occur again. We’ve already put several safeguards into effect even before we got the letter.”
A letter from the DPS Narcotics Service addressed to District Attorney Micheal Murray stated, “The purpose of the inventory as presented by you was to determine how many cases may have missing or tampered evidence as a result of an unethical officer or for any other reason.”
The DPS examined 583 pending cases and found that evidence from 11 felony and nine misdemeanor cases are missing evidence or evidence has been tampered with, the letter states. It does not lay blame to any individual.
Page read from a portion of the letter, which council members had already seen. The portion Page read stated that a full-time evidence room technician “will prevent further issues both legally and ethically within the Brownwood Police Department.”
Page said a records clerk is currently doing double duty as records clerk and evidence custodian, but he said she can’t continue doing both jobs. Previously the evidence locker was under the supervision of the criminal investigation division, which doesn’t have the manpower to properly maintain the evidence locker, Page said.
“ … One of the officers went bad and it went south from there,” he said.
Council members, while agreeing to support funding for an evidence technician, said all of the problems can’t be blamed on one officer. “I don’t think you can put everything that’s been wrong with that evidence situation on a bad officer … there’s been other issues,” council member Dave Fair said.
Council member Carl McMillan said a “lack of supervision” contributed to evidence room issues.
“Unfortunately I’ll have to agree with that statement,” Page said. “We’ve had some problems. And the chief ultimately is responsible for it. Yes, we understand those issues.”
Fair and other council members said they expect to see a written plan for maintaining the evidence room, as well as written standard operating procedures for the entire department.
Page said Stirman is working on a manual and he hopes it will be complete before Stirman retires.
Council member Darrell Haynes asked about having a joint evidence room with the sheriff’s office. Page said he’ll approach sheriff’s officials about that idea but said agencies normally don’t share evidence rooms. He said the agencies conduct separate investigations, and problems with one agency’s evidence would taint the other agency, and there isn’t space at the Law Enforcement Center for a joint evidence room.
Page addressed the Civil Service Commission last month and requested the abolishment of a lieutenant’s position in exchange for a patrol position. Page said the department is “top heavy” for a department this size.
Commission members expressed concern that abolishing the position might harm officers’ morale, but agreed to forward the request to the city council.
Fair said Tuesday he wants the lieutenant’s position to remain in the department, and he wants allocation for a new corporal’s position — all as a prelude to going to 12-hour shifts.
The matter of the lieutenant’s position will be dealt with at the next council meeting, Page said.