Police Struggle To Cover Gaps In Ranks

Violent crime down despite department operating 20 percent below its authorized strength

Police Chief Don Engler (center) helps another officer make an arrest. Despite a shortage of officers, crime rates have fallen.

Police Chief Don Engler (center) helps another officer make an arrest. Despite a shortage of officers, crime rates have fallen. |

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Still one lieutenant and four officers short of full staffing, Payson police officers no longer have much time for routine patrols and traffic details, said Police Chief Don Engler.

Engler hopes to hire a new lieutenant by October and other officers as soon as possible. The department has operated without a second in command since July of 2010 when Lt. Donny Garvin was demoted to sergeant after a series of sexting incidents. Garvin’s demotion, a string of officer terminations due to unbecoming behavior and continued difficulty in finding recruits has left many officers pulling double duty.

Officers often go from one call to the next throughout their 10-hour shifts, leaving less time for routine patrols and traffic enforcement. Not surprisingly, the number of traffic citations has dropped dramatically.

More unexpectedly, the rate of violent crimes has also declined in that same period.

Engler says he has no idea whether that trend will continue — but said that the department clearly needs a middle manager.

“It has been difficult,” Engler said of running the department without a lieutenant. “I think it will be much more healthy for the organization to get back to having a lieutenant.”

The lieutenant oversees the patrol and investigation divisions and runs the department when Engler is off.

Engler said he has struggled to wear both hats since Garvin’s demotion.

“I don’t have as much time as I would like to devote to our quality assurance, ensuring that we are providing those high-quality investigations that we have in the past,” he said. “A lot of things need that daily check and my time becomes limited.”

The new lieutenant will focus a lot of his or her time on bringing these areas up to snuff.

“It is definitely time to spread out some of the duties I have been doing and that have been shared between some of the sergeants,” he said.

Engler said he waited more than two years to look for a new lieutenant because he wanted the department to “develop” and he needed time to figure out what was best.

In the past, the department promoted from within.

This time, it opened the position to all qualified Arizona officers.

“Basically the reasoning behind that is just to find the very best candidate to fill the position,” said Engler.

Several people have applied for the spot, including from the PPD.

When Garvin was demoted in 2010, few local officers had the qualifications to take his spot. Part of letting the department “develop” was giving those officers time to improve their skills and training.

The job demands leadership skills and Engler wants someone who embraces community policing.

The 26 officers still on the force do a good job of serving the community, he said. But finding new officers with the same service attitude has been tough.

The PPD has held several open testing calls for new officers and even has a few good applicants. However, none made it through the academy.

The last officer the PPD hired was Rory Vaughn, who transferred from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office four months ago.

The PPD will hold another round of testing the third week of September.

Finding applicants who pass the background check has been the biggest challenge.

A candidate’s traffic and criminal records are examined along with their drug use. They must also take a lie detector test, psychological evaluation and medical examination.

Even if they can check all those boxes, an applicant who also has common sense and a good work ethic is hard to find, he said.

The department is authorized to have 30 officers. The roster has shrunk to 26, with sergeants Dean Faust and Don Kasl due to retire soon.

While the department is “surviving,” it needs more officers to help shoulder responsibilities.

“I think we have done a good job of sharing the duties, but it can’t continue, we have got to get a lieutenant in there so there is a person that is daily responsible for those middle management duties,” he said.

Scheduling

The department has adopted a new system for scheduling, which involves staggering shifts to cover high-activity periods. Traditionally, certain squads work the same hours to develop better teamwork. Now, officers frequently work for different sergeants.

Peak call times include the early evening hours, between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and Friday night between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Tuesdays are also strangely busy as well as lunchtime, Engler said.

With officers taking more calls than ever, it leaves them with less time for routine patrols.

“Any officer-generated activity is suffering ... because the officers we do have are having to handle the call load.”

Traffic citations have gone down as a result.

The Uniform Crime Index, however, showed a decline in violent crime in the last year.

For 2010, the index sat at 43.5. In 2011, it went down to 42.8.

The index takes into account the number of homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, assaults, thefts, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts.

Comments

Wayne Lowe 2 years ago

A police department with problems of staffing positions would suggest the administrative command lacks the ability to plan and execute basic personnel strategy. What would a business do when faced with worker shortages? Recruit and train more workers. Are there no military police returning from duty who possibly could be qualified to serve in Payson? Perhaps there are underlying flaws in the Payson police in regard to the way the department is managed and how the staff is trained. A well-run police department should have applicants eager to join and serve the community.

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Maggie Meares 2 years ago

Our police dept. has a few Great Officers who do qualify for the job and duties of Lieutenant. The "Chief" is testing outside the dept. as another "Gestapo Tactic" to put fear and discourse inside the dept. with his officers. So the underlying problems are "inside" the department itself and its "fearless leader". This town has become accustom to the "Gestapo" type management inside of the police department....Many good officers have left! Many good officers have been "forced" to leave! Those that are still there are afraid to say anything or stand up against the "Chief", in fear of termination by him or the town council!!! We do want our officers held to a higher standard...they are to Protect and Serve the TOWN CITIZENS, not themselves!! They NEED to set good examples for our younger citizens...none of this is being done! I say it is time for a new "Chief" that can actually lead by example and not the "Gestapo Tactics" and perhaps it is time for some new officers that want to "follow the rules" and have respect for the "Chief" and not "fear" him over stupid stuff that he uses to hang over their heads!!!! Since I have been posting on the Round Up...I have noticed a substantial increase of Payson patrol cars up and down my street...MORE THAN I HAVE SEEN IN THE LAST 12 YEARS!!!! I WILL NOT BE INTIMIDATED BY THIS GESTAPO!!!

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Pat Randall 2 years ago

Maggie Meares, Seems you have a problem with the police patroling your area. Guilty of something? Did it ever occur to you maybe they are watching someone else and some day you will be grateful they have been patroling your street.

How do you know who is qualified and who isn't? It doesn't sound to me as if you and Mr. Lowe really know what goes on in the police dept. Was some of your friends the ones who are gone? I think a couple more should have been fired. There were some real jerks in the dept. a couple still there. Hopefully they will leave soon. There are some really good ones left and I hope they stay.

Thank you Chief Engler.

I liked the line in the newspaper article about officers having common sense and good work ethics. They should also have good morals.

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Maggie Meares 2 years ago

Actually, Ms. Randall...I am guilty of nothing and I have absolutely nothing to hide. As a business owner of 4 businesses, I find your insinuation that I am guilty of something very insulting. This personal attack on my character is quite frankly just very RUDE! I am a former Foster Parent and YES! I DO GO TO CHURCH!! I am also a college graduate with a education in Business, Real Estate, Wills and Probate Law….Being a person of good humor I like to say I “ARE” A COLLEGE GRADUATE! I however, do know who you are and all of your postings here and your “know it all attitude” and or complaining on the Rim Country Forum on KMOG...that's usually about the time I TURN IT OFF! It's ok, I am sure it makes you feel "important"...what ever blows the wind up your skirt I guess is ok with the public here in Payson. Also, I have not been friends with any of the officers that have left voluntarily or that have been fired or demoted, but I do know alot of town employee’s and officers in other departments....THEY THINK PPD IS THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THIS TOWN...How's that for a bit of wind. Also, I have been informed that the increase in PPD Patrols on my street is due to the neighbors down the way….a little questioning took care of that issue! It just seemed odd that the increase happened right around the time I started pointing out my distrust with PPD! Cautious, not paranoid if that’s what you’re thinking! I do think Mr. Lowe is informed about what goes on in PPD.....and with that said, who exactly do you think you are to decide who is qualified and/or who should be fired???? Hmmm? EXACTLY what I thought....just as with me, it is your "OPINION" as to who should “still be fired from the PPD” and I have my opinion as well! ISN'T AMERICA GREAT!!! WE CAN ALL HAVE OUR OWN OPINIONS...God IS good! Now let’s just hold hands and sing "Coom-By-Ya"....(or however you spell it!)

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Pat Randall 2 years ago

Maggie Meares, Didn't I say in my post the police may be patroling your street watching someone else? You replied they were. I did not accuse you of anything. Your nerves are really close to the surface. You do not have to read what I put on here or listen to KMOG when I call in. It is still a free country. What does being a foster parent or going to church have anything to do with the subject? I don't feel I have to dress up and go into a building on Sunday to be a good person. I probably know more people that work for the town than you do if that makes any difference. I grew up in Payson so do know quite a few people. I can back up all I post on here or say on the radio. I don't pull things out of the air. I don't have to tell how smart I am with my education nor brag about what I do. How do you ever have time to read all that is put on here and listen to the radio? Have a nice day.

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Pat Randall 2 years ago

Maggie Meares, No one, just responding to what you were saying about your education in Real Estate. Doesn't take much to get a license. I was the first one out of the testing for a license and did it with flying colors. Didn't have to go to college to do it.

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