There’s a dynamic at play in Brentwood now that affects how the Brentwood Police Department operates.
In short, it goes like this:
The busier Brentwood gets, the more congested it gets. The more congested it gets, the more traffic accidents there are. The more traffic accidents there are, the more often police have to respond to them and, because of the congestion, the longer those responses take. The more police have to respond and the longer it takes them to respond, the thinner the Brentwood Police Department gets stretched.
The thinner the department gets stretched, the harder police have to work to keep up with all the myriad duties police officers are responsible for in the community.
Add this dynamic against the backdrop of a profession that has been increasingly under fire on the national stage in the recent past – which requires new officers to undergo lengthy, intensive hiring and training processes that still frequently result in a high turnover rate – you have the central challenge facing the Brentwood Police Department, as Chief Jeff Hughes describes it.
In 2016, Chief Hughes hired 17 people for the department, including 13 police officers. That has returned the department to full staff. Good news, right?
Yes, but that good news comes with a caveat.
“As we sit here today, every authorized position is filled, but what people don’t understand is that a number of those people that have filled those positions recently are still in training and are not folks that we can consider toward manpower at this point,” Hughes said.
Finding a spot on the police force is a lot more complicated than showing up at the station, having an interview, getting hired and patrolling the week after. There is a whole lot more work involved.
Take two recent hires by the department, for instance.
“I’ve got two that start the academy a week from Sunday,” Hughes said last week. “So they’ve got no experience, and they’ll go through a 12-week academy. They’ll come back. They’ll go through the FTO program, then it might be closer to 2018 before I’m able to get those folks out onto the street.”
The FTO program refers to the field training that the department requires of all its incoming officers. New hires with no prior experience have to participate in the program “for no less than 20 weeks,” according to the department’s website, while those with a background in police work can complete the program in 12 weeks.
The vacancies that occur between the time when an officer leaves and a new one completes training, as well as the resources used up to recruit, test and vet candidates. That equates to a definite hardship for the department.
“When those positions are unfilled, somebody’s gotta do their job,” Hughes said.
And the ramifications for remaining officers can be grueling.
“Those people who are picking up the slack, not being able to take off, having to work a lot of overtime, having to do the jobs that have to get done because we’re not at full staff — it puts a strain on the department,” Hughes said.
That strain is exacerbated by the fact that these vacancies are occurring in an environment where a rapidly rising population is demanding more police services.
“It takes a lot of time and resources, obviously,” Hughes said.
Even worse is the fact that these types of vacancies are becoming the new normal.
Hughes observed that, from his experience he could almost anticipate to lose at least 10 percent of the authorized number of police officers in any given year.
Hughes has hired 36 people since he became chief in January 2012.
“That’s a lot of recruitment. That’s a lot of selection process. That’s a lot of interviews and backgrounds,” he said.
It’s also a lot of people not on the force whose jobs have to be done by others until replacements are fully trained.
The problem, it seems, comes down to two issues.
RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION
“Recruitment and retention are a constant challenge for law enforcement and we’re no exception,” Hughes said.
There are numerous national trends that have made these challenges more formidable in recent years.
One that Hughes has observed is not limited just to the law enforcement field. It has to do with a generational shift in the way young people entering the workforce view their first jobs.
“It’s commonly discussed about the younger generation changing careers more frequently,” Hughes said. “When I came up in the profession and took a job, I looked at it as a career. Today, if I hire someone fresh out of college, they may change careers two or three times before they settle on what it is they’re actually gonna do.”
There’s not much that Brentwood can do about this, Hughes admitted. It is a problem and will most likely continue to be a problem.
Not helping this issue is a trend involving the way in which the profession of policing is viewed around the country.
“All you have to do is watch any media outlet to see that,” Hughes said.
High-profile cases involving police violence and subsequent demonstrations have taken a prominent role on the national stage in recent years.
Police officers themselves have also become more likely to die by targeted ambush-style attacks. Although the number of ambush attacks on police officers has declined from a high of 526 in 1991 to 240 in 2015, those attacks are more deadly today.
For instance in 1991, of those 526 ambushes of police officers, eight resulted in deaths according to statistics from The International Association of Chiefs of Police. In 2016, 21 police officers were killed in ambush attacks, the highest number of fatalities in those types of attacks in more than 20 years, according to a report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
“When the ambushes of officers for no apparent reason is up … you’ve got to wonder why anybody would want to do this job,” Hughes said.
Another factor with recruitment and retention involves competition from either the private sector or other branches of government.
“I’ve lost a lot of folks to the private sector because of the security positions that are available out there in the private sector; the investigative positions that are available out there in the private sector; and I’ve lost folks to federal agencies, along with folks that just want to get out of law enforcement altogether for one reason or another,” Hughes said.
In order to attract and keep qualified candidates, Hughes thinks it is imperative that the city makes a job at the Brentwood Police Department look as enticing as possible.
“[It’s] very important that we remain competitive in the market to be able to recruit and retain the best candidates in this area so we don’t go through this type of turnover that we’ve seen in recent times,” Hughes said.
Of course, as Hughes sees it, there are plenty of reasons why Brentwood should be an attractive place to work for prospective police officers. One of the main ones involves the department’s relationship with the community.
“We’re very blessed to have the support of the citizens of our community because it’s not that way everywhere,” he said. “[We’ve] had an outpouring of support from our citizens throughout 2016. When things would happen around the country with officers being killed and so forth, our folks, our citizens would bring things by – goodies, treats, what have you. There’s hardly a day goes by that somebody doesn’t greet me here in the City of Brentwood and thank me for the job that we do here in Brentwood. I see that happen with other officers. I hear it with other officers, and that’s just very humbling to know that you’ve got the support of the community. So that’s very important.”
So what’s the solution? How can the department and the city rise to the various challenges and hire and keep the very best police they can get?
“If I had that answer then everybody in the country that is in law enforcement would be waiting at the door to hear what it was,” Hughes said.
He does have some ideas, though, including asking the city for more resources. Last year, the city authorized Hughes to add three more officers to the department and raised the department’s budget by 3.7 percent to $7.3 million.
Hughes thinks that a system of regular increases to staffing levels would be a welcome change.
“Brentwood’s always had the philosophy of doing more with less,” he said. “That’s not a secret. But we’ve started working on a plan if you will to incrementally add police officers.”
It is his hope that a more constant stable of fully trained officers will have positive effects on the work that the department does.
Looking ahead to next year, the police department is – like Fire & Rescue – eagerly awaiting the new computer-aided dispatch and radio systems that officials approved in 2016.
The new CAD system will help coordinate dispatch calls and make a more efficient delivery in service.
He seems most eager for the adoption of the new 800 MHz radio system though, which will ease communication between the Brentwood Police Department and departments from surrounding communities.
“As we sit here today, we’re not on the same frequency as the Franklin Police Department to our south or the Metro Police Department to our north,” Hughes said.
That means Brentwood police aren’t able to communicate with those agencies car to car or officer to officer. There’s also the impact the system can have in the event of a major emergency.
“Regardless of what happens, if you have a major incident happen typically the first thing that breaks down is communications,” Hughes said. “To be a part of this project to implement a county-wide radio system is probably one of the most important steps we could take to improve law enforcement.”
As far as other technology is concerned, Hughes said keeping up with what is on the market is like following a moving target.
“It’s a constant challenge to make sure that we know what’s available to us as a resource technologically speaking,” Hughes said.
The department is looking into body cameras, Hughes said, but pointed to issues of open records, privacy and storage availability that have kept Brentwood from adopting the technology.
“a lot of issues that surround open records and privacy, not to mention cost and storage and those sorts of things” that have kept the technology from becoming adopted in Brentwood so far.
Landon Woodruff covers the City of Brentwood and Nolensville for both the Brentwood and Nolensville Home Pages. You can contact him at email@example.com.