Over the objections of the police administration, Brownwood City Council members decided Tuesday that the police department will continue operating with the two lieutenants’ positions it currently has.
Police Chief Virgil Cowin and Assistant Police Chief Garry Page urged the council to abolish one of the positions after today’s retirement of Bill Stirman, who has been a lieutenant since 1993 and has commanded the patrol division.
“We don’t need it,” Page said, arguing that the city will have to raise taxes next year to keep the position.
Patrolman Kenyon Black, speaking for the Brownwood Municipal Police Association, countered that the position is needed. He said keeping it is just as important as the 13 percent pay hike the council recently approved for the police department. He said he disagrees that the city will have to raise taxes in the future to keep the position.
After hearing the opposing arguments, council members unanimously approved an ordinance establishing the civil service positions and pay for the police and fire departments.
Council members recently approved the 2007-’08 budget, which has funds for 13 percent pay raises for the police and fire departments, and also creates positions for two additional police officers.
Page said the department is top-heavy with two lieutenants. He said abolishing one of the positions would allow the department to put yet another patrolman on the street, and the department’s remaining lieutenant, John Harper, would command the patrol division. Harper is currently assigned to work traffic.
Page also said that extra patrolmen would be essential if the department is to properly run 12-hour shifts as planned. The department currently operates with eight-hour shifts, but police have said they will put more officers on the streets and reduce overtime by switching to 12-hour shifts.
Plans call for the department to have a total of four shifts, eventually with seven officers per shift, Page said. He said if the department is at full strength counting the two new officers approved in the budget, there would enough personnel for one seven-man shift and three six-man shifts.
Trading the lieutenant for a patrolman would mean two seven-man shifts, and savings in overtime would be enough to hire more patrolmen to reach the seven-man quota, Page said.
After Stirman retires today, the department will be short four officers: the two new positions placed in the budget the vacancy from Stirman’s retirement; and a vacancy from the unexpected resignation of an officer who quit after only seven days on the job.
Black countered that the department needs more than one lieutenant to properly supervise the patrol division. Each lieutenant, he said, would work 12-hour shifts that overlaps the day and night shifts, and supervise two squads.
Black also said abolishing the position would harm officers’ morale because it would reduce their opportunities to some day be promoted to a lieutenant’s rank.
“Members of the association would like to express that they have no desire to lose the opportunity for promotion by abolishing the lieutenant’s position,” Black said.
He said the opportunity to advance in rank is a factor in attracting new officers.
Black also argued that even with the four current vacancies, the department could begin operating 12-hour shifts with six people per shift, which, he said, would be sufficient.
Page said he was speaking both as a taxpayer and as a representative of the police department.
He said the City Council was concerned seven or eight years ago that the department was “top-heavy.”
Page said the department once had three lieutenants, counting him before he was promoted to what was then a captain’s rank. After Page’s promotion, the lieutenant’s position he held was abolished.
“One thing you need to understand when you go to abolishing positions, you only do that when the position becomes vacant,” Page said. “I wouldn’t even consider abolishing an occupied position. The window of opportunity is now.”
Page said he is willing to see his taxes go up to some extent to support pay raises for the police and fire departments, and all other city employees.
But he said it will become increasingly expensive to keep both lieutenants’ positions. “I don’t want (taxes) to skyrocket,” Page said.
Cowin said he understands the Brownwood Municipal Police Association’s argument for keeping both lieutenants’ positions. “I understand where they’re coming from. We really don’t need the position,” Cowin said.
“…The bottom line is, whatever this council decides to do, we’re going to live with it.”
Cowin also asked council members to “let me run the police department. That’s what I get paid to do. I do the very best I can with what I’ve got and that will not change. … I’m not out after anybody’s promotion. I understand how the troops feel.”
Council member Dave Fair accused Page of using “scare tactics” in talking about potential tax increases.
“You’re sure we’re going to raise taxes,” Fair said. “ … You’re assuming we’re going to raise taxes. We can’t reallocate money? … I’m a little miffed by using that tactic.”
“It’s not scare tactics,” Page said. He said he wants to get taxpayers thinking and communicating with council members about whether they will support tax increases to pay more in city salaries.
City employees, Page said, “have been underpaid for years.”