A Payson Police Department in “dire” need of new officers may see a respite next year after an aggressive hiring campaign netted dozens of worthy candidates.
The department plans to send six officers to the police academy at the start of the new year who could join the force by the fall.
It will also fill its long-empty lieutenant position Jan. 7 with Pinetop-Lakeside’s former chief of police Sherwood “Woody” Eldridge.
Police Chief Don Engler demoted former Lt. Donny Garvin in July of 2010 after an embarrassing sexting scandal. Garvin’s office has remained empty since then, with Engler taking on the majority of supervisory duties.
In fact, besides Engler, only four officers have leadership roles in the department, all acting as patrol sergeants, including Garvin. A number of officers left the department for various indiscretions this year.
Moreover, Det. Sgt. Dean Faust and Sgt. Don Kasl both retired recently.
Engler said the staff has covered all the shifts, despite being six officers short. “I am very proud of all of the employees.”
Engler said all six might not make it through the academy and probationary period. It takes nearly a year to fully train an officer — and in that time the department might end up with additional vacancies.
Despite the effort, preliminary crime statistics show an increase in domestic violence calls, injury accidents and burglaries in 2012.
Paradoxically, preliminary statistics show the number of domestic violence arrests has dropped — along with DUI arrests.
One of the areas concerning Engler the most is traffic. Since Allen Dyer left, the PPD has not had an officer dedicated to writing traffic tickets.
And at least weekly, residents express concern about speeders, Engler said. With a new batch of officers late next year, Engler will devote one to traffic enforcement.
Statistically, the number of vehicle accidents has decreased each year, going from 1,170 in 2009 to 930 in 2011. However, from 2009 to 2011, injury accidents went up 125 percent.
The department ramped up its recruitment efforts several months ago when several open testings produced no new hires.
The department started a hiring campaign, headed up by Sgt. Less Barr. The group posted magnetic help wanted ads on patrol vehicles, placed fliers in businesses and lit up their roadside marquee with hiring information.
The work appeared to pay off with 169 applications from throughout the state. After testing, 93 applicants made it to round two and there are now 45 applicants on the hiring list.
“That is huge,” Engler said. The PPD plans to hire six applicants. Two will start basic training at the Northern Arizona Regional Training Academy in Prescott Valley Jan. 7, two more on Jan. 28 at the Western Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy in Lake Havasu and two more on Feb. 11 at the Arizona Law Enforcement Academy.
The department now needs to fill four dispatch spots and boost its volunteer force. Volunteer levels were as high as 58, but have fallen to 41, he said.
Worrisome trends in 2012 include a 36 percent jump in burglary reports.
Engler attributes the majority of the increase to a rash of vehicle break-ins in October. Nearly 40 percent of all vehicle break-ins for the year occurred that month. Most were on vehicles that were either unlocked or unsecured.
Another area of alarm is the number of heroin arrests, which officers are making weekly.
The PPD has not seen this amount of heroin before, Engler said. “It is very concerning.”
A number of meth users have switched to heroin.
“It will have a huge impact on the community if we can’t get it under control, because it will drive up thefts, burglaries and crimes that are involved with drug use.”