Officers on patrol need more supervision, Chief Mark Chaires told the City Council in his last budget meeting before his retirement.
He said although the city can’t afford more sergeants next year to supervise the patrol officers he urged the council to find ways “in the next couple years” to add more positions.
He recommended a system in which two sergeants would be on at all times, dividing the city between them. That way, he said, they could keep an eye on every patrol officer.
“We have 20 officers running around out there,” he said.
But city officials said the city simply can’t afford to increase supervision.
“There’s a lot of things we need and a lot of things we want. There’s only so much we can afford,” said Councilman Carl Erikson, who chairs the finance committee. “I think it’s critically important to live within our means.”
That means no additional sergeants. “We’ve got to find ways to do without it,” he said.
Mayor Gary McCarthy agreed, saying he needs police officers to perform better, despite a paucity of supervision. “You ought to be able to do it without being supervised,” he said. “I need people to assume some leadership responsibilities.”
He said the few sergeants on duty now are able to handle the rookies who encounter scenarios that weren’t quite covered by training. There will always be unexpected situations that need a supervisor’s help, he said.
But he and Erikson said better hiring and training should avoid the other need for supervision: to keep officers from committing misdeeds.
“You have to have a higher level of employee who can self-manage,” Erikson said. “You have to pick the right people.”
Chaires argued that every officer improves under supervision.
He cited the changes made in the detectives unit, which was once mostly operating at night. The supervisors mostly worked days.
Without supervision, some detectives were accused of leaving the city to have dinner or work out at gyms, as well as solving few cases. That changed when the unit’s schedule was changed to ensure that detectives worked when supervisors were also on duty.
“Everybody should have a supervisor on shift,” Chaires said. “And the system has worked a lot better.”
He added that he feels supervisors are doing a better job of noticing signs of an officer going bad.
“Now we can keep that person from veering off track,” he said.
The department has also added a “peer support” program that helps officers deal with stress, alcohol, finances and family problems.
“We think [those problems] have gotten some good employees in trouble,” he said.