Seligman police restructure positions to retain officers
Department plans to hire one full-time officer and keep one part-time officer
The City of Seligman Police Department is changing the structure of its police force from three part-time officers to one full-time officer and one part-time officer.
Terry Burgess, Seligman police chief, said they want to offer one full-time position, with benefits, to retain officers.
"That's the goal: officer retention and a stable figure to the community," Burgess said. "With part-time officers, as soon as they get a full-time opportunity, they're going to try to better themselves, and I don't fault them for that. On paper, it looks like we're cutting hours.
"However, we've not been able to cover those hours because I can't find officers that need only part-time work. So the whole reason for the change is to help retain officers."
Burgess said one part-time officer, Mike Smith, hired in December 2014 and working 30 hours, has already left to accept a full-time position with the Cassville Police Department. Another part-time officer, Joseph Arnold, will be leaving soon to pursue higher education, but has agreed to stay on until a suitable replacement can be found. Officer Aaron Kyser, who was a reserve officer and had been with the police department since November, became a part-time officer around January. And, Reserve Officer Fernando Ortega works a couple of day shifts, about 14-16 hours per week, Burgess said.
The hiring of a new, full-time officer and the restructuring could take effect at any time. Burgess said the full-time position will be offered to current employees first.
"As soon as I know from my employees internally on the position, it can take effect immediately," he said. "Of course, they will have to give notice if they have another job."
If no one internally fills the position, Burgess said recruitment will most likely start from the next group of police academy graduates. Before the decision was made to restructure the positions, Burgess had gotten hours approved for a fourth part-time position late last year and had been advertising the last two months but the department had not filled it. Part of the reason, Burgess said, was because they were waiting for the next group of potential applicants to graduate from academy.
"When I initially took over back in May, they had been running two full-time and some part-time officers, and it had always been a budget issue," he said. "I restricted everything, and the goal was to eliminate those [full-time] positions, which at that time allowed more officers to come on board and therefore get better coverage for the city. So, I was able to use $12,000 in benefits from the two full-time positions, aside from the pay, to expand coverage. We're not going to be spending any more money with the full-time position."
Burgess said he presented his proposal to the board for the restructuring, and the end result was a savings to the city of about $100 per week.
While Seligman may be a small town, officers are needed to curb crime and keep the community safe, and to do that, they must have proper coverage.
"It's still a rural area, so you never know what you'll come across, and being on the border, statistically, those towns tend to have elevated crime rates because [suspects] can hop back and forth and avoid being arrested."
Just recently, for example, there were four-five residential burglaries reported which the police department is investigating. The burglaries were all residential, mainly targeting garages and unlocked vehicles.
Burgess said the restructuring should not affect coverage.
"There will still be enough coverage," he said. "I would like to see 24/7 coverage, but we will have seven nights a week coverage, which is when the county usually has the least amount of deputies on duty."
"Ideally, I'd like to see more and more coverage, and that's going to depend on how the tax money comes in, and fines and forfeitures," he said. "Some of those things are way beyond our control. We're a small community and we work with what we've got.
"With the economy improving here, which part of that is because of the new Walmart, the taxes at this time are already ahead of where they were projected to be. What we can do is try to make the community feel safe and that will make people want to frequent our community and businesses. I look forward to bringing on an officer full-time."