recent spike of thefts in Parkville has city officials questioning their ability to equip the police force with the tools necessary to get the job done.
One-hundred sixty-two larcenies took place in 2005, up from 96 in 2004.
“There’s got to be something we can do to help you get these numbers down,” Alderman Marc Sportsman said to Police Chief William Hudson during the board of aldermen meeting Tuesday night. “I want to be able to tell the citizens, ‘This is what we’re doing about it.’”
“It” being the one crime occurring every 30 hours in Parkville, a statistic Hudson said wasn’t as bad as it sounded.
“A lot of the larcenies are shoplifting cases,” Hudson said. “And some are repeat offenders. We had one individual steal whiskey on 12 different occasions. Several of the others involved minor items like barrettes, skin cream, and ‘girlie magazines.’”
Hudson emphasized that these crimes coupled with rising incidents of both auto theft and fraud are being dealt with to the best of the department’s ability. He says the biggest setback in keeping a tighter ship is the city’s lack of officers.
“We’ve run short-handed all year,” he said. “We’re down two bodies and have been most of the year.”
He said recruiting quality officers is no walk in the park, requiring more money and benefits for the cream of the crop to stay.
“I think next year we need to look at raising the salaries,” he said. “We’ve got some good people and if we want to keep them we’ve got to pay them more. I’ve pointed out before that we’re trying to change our tactics in recruiting. We may start recruiting people that haven’t been through an academy. The large cities send their people through their own academies. They’re hired, they go there, and they stay there. So what we end up with are people that ended up out on the street without being offered a job after school.”
Certain factors initially attract officers to serve in Parkville, including a health care plan Hudson says is “probably the best in the region.” It also gives the officers the opportunity to work in a department where a majority of crimes don’t go unpunished.
“We offer something that a lot of agencies don’t,” he said. “You can do actual police work here. We clear 54 percent of the crime because we have the time. We can run down leads. In Kansas City you just get a report and that’s the end of it. It’s too much volume and they don’t have the time we do.
“But on the other hand if you’re wanting be a police officer and you want to be where things are happening, you go to Kansas City where patrolmen top out at around $60,000 a year.”
The absence of other incentives to join the force may also put retention at a disadvantage.
“We don’t have a retirement plan. A lot of the other agencies around have one. A guy goes in, does 20 years and leaves with half-pay. You can’t do that here. I’ve got guys who have been here over 20 years and all they have is the annual five percent we give them. That would be fine if we were all money managers. But most policemen are policemen because they’re not great money managers. Otherwise they’d be something else.”
Sportsman sees the setup in Parkville as a costly cycle.
“My two biggest things are prevention and retention,” he said. “We need to do whatever it takes not to get the bottom of the bottom but the top of the top. Every time we bring an officer on, they get used to the city and the system and then leave after 12 months. It ends up being money down the drain.”