Kyle Police Department Chief Michael Blake discusses police staffing levels with the Kyle City Council. Photo by Lance Duncan.
By LANCE DUNCAN
The Kyle City Council approving the hiring of four new sworn officers to the Kyle Police Department (KPD) last month while hiring an architectural firm to do a needs analysis concerning the requirements a new police station.
The KPD has struggled with funding and staffing levels for more than three years. City officials say KPD is $131,000 over budget with only three officers on patrol at any given time in a city of nearly 30,000 people.
In March, KPD Chief Michael Blake went before the council to request eight additional officers. Blake also spoke about the department’s need for a new police station.
Blake said that citizen calls for service were up by 20 percent in 2009, and that Kyle was 37.7 percent below comparable cities in terms of staffing officers and 45 percent below statewide averages. He also said that due to the low amount of officers working in Kyle, KPD pays high overtime costs. Blake added that the department is using incompatible VHS and digital systems, and struggles with a lack of space.
Blake had requested $136,000 for overtime in the previous year, but only received $47,000. In March, Blake requested an additional $46,000, which the council approved.
Blake said that in addition to the department being understaffed and overly expensive due to overtime pay, there was a need for specialists, such as juvenile probation, traffic, domestic violence, and sexual assault officers. He also said that Kyle is “blessed” by its currently low crime rate.
Ex-City Manager Tom Mattis had also urged the council to do something about the police department issues, saying that if changes were not made, steps would have to be taken that would adversely affect service levels.
Mattis said the biggest factor was to try to maintain minimum staffing, and he, along with Blake, urged the city to do a needs analysis within the next year in order to keep to the schedule for constructing a new police station.
Last month, the council discussed the relative merits of hiring an architectural firm to do the needs analysis. Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson said she was worried about the assessment coming back as a value that was too high for the city to afford. Johnson said the website of a firm being considered for the assessment typically builds police stations for around $10 million. In previous discussions, the council concluded that the budget for the new police station should not exceed $5 million, and ideally would be around $2.5 million.
Councilmember Jaime Sanchez asked Blake and Interim City Manager James Earp why a needs assessment was necessary, suggesting that the city simply hire an architectural firm to construct the building and get a quote from that firm.
Earp said the danger is that the firm might come back with a design much larger and more costly than the city could afford, adding that the benefit of the needs analysis was that it would give the city an idea of what to tell the architects.
While Sanchez and Johnson appeared to be reluctant to spend $35,000 on the analysis, Councilmembers Michelle Lopez, David Wilson and Becky Selbera all were in support of the idea because they wanted to stay on track with construction of the police department during the next fiscal year.
The hiring of a firm to do the needs analysis passed, 6-1, with only Sanchez voting against it. The council voted, 4-3, against adding eight officers, but the entire council agreed to add four officers.Email | Print