Blytheville Police Department under budget but also understaffed

Blytheville Police Department under budget but also understaffed

BLYTHEVILLE, AR (KAIT) - For over a decade the Blytheville Police Department has been understaffed.

"Earlier this year, we probably came the closest we have in a long time to being fully staffed," Police Chief Ross Thompson told Region 8 News. At one time this year, BPD had 41 officers. This year, they are budgeted for 43 officers.

However, the police department is still nearly 10% short-staffed and come Monday, the force will lose another 15% of their uniformed officers.

Even so, Thompson said crime rates are getting better.

"We're on a trend this year to have one of the lower crime rates that we've had in years." Thompson said coincidently, they were closer to being fully staffed than in years past.

However, fewer officers can take its toll.

"Being short-staffed or having vacancies and openings, especially on a continuous basis, it can have it's toll on morale and it can have a toll on the productivity of the department as well," Thompson said.

With just 38 officers, including the police chief and other captains and commanders, the Blytheville Police Department is still five officers short for 2014.

That number is about to drop again.

"We'll be sending six of those officers to the {Law Enforcement Training} Academy. They'll be gone for 13 weeks, that's starting next Monday," Thompson explained.

Though those officers will be coming back after the training academy, their temporary departure resulted in the department dissolving one of the most proactive divisions against crime, the Street Crime Unit.

As they are understaffed, Chief Thompson said they are under budget too. But even if they did become fully staffed today, they'd still be considerably under budget for the remainder of the year. Thompson estimated they would remain approximately $80,000 to $100,000 under budget.

Thompson explained those numbers go higher if they keep with their current operations.

"If we just maintain what we're doing right now, the same level basically that we're doing, we'll probably come out 7-8% under budget in salaries, $100,000 to $125,000 easily," Thompson said.

That saved money doesn't make up for lowered morale and shifting manpower to cover fewer officers though. Chief Thompson said what the department needs is more applicants.

"It's not just there's an opening here and you get a job, there's actually quite a few opportunities, not just to learn the profession of law enforcement but specific skills within the profession that you might not have a chance at other departments or other places."

Thompson hopes that the department will become fully staffed after they test applicants this fall for the PD.

Thompson said being fully staffed could mean re-implementation of departments like the Street Crimes Unit that effectively deterred crime.

Thompson said he does not have a set date yet for when the Blytheville Police Department will test applicants.

If you are interested in joining the force, visit BPD's website.

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