Relief has swept through the Bellaire Police Department within the past month as four new police officers have finished training and assumed normal duties, easing a staffing dilemma that prevented many officers from taking time off.
“It will be better than what it was,” said Tim Quimby, community resource officer. “We won’t have officers changing shifts or having to work overtime.”
When fully staffed the department has 42 employees, but within the past year it has been short by eight officers. The number promised to drop when the department hired five new officers, but they had to complete an intense 19-week training program before working on their own.
Two new officers finished training in the last week of September, one was released into the field two weeks ago, and another officer just assumed normal duties on Sunday. Another trainee will graduate in about a month, and the department recently hired someone else who is still in the second phase in a 5-step training process. That leaves only two positions still unfilled.
“Since we’ve all been released everyone’s been trying to take some time off,” said Douglas Clawson, a new officer who finished training two weeks ago. “It’s been a long time since a lot of these officers have taken days off. They’re definitely happy about it.”
The training program includes five phases that require the new officer to assume more and more duties as the training progresses. The trainees ride with experienced field training officers who teach them and oversee their duties.
“They have to learn a lot of stuff in that 18-to-19 weeks they’re in the training program,” said Lt. Bill Bledsoe, who supervises the program. “It’s just task after task after task.”
Officers complete a firearms training workshop, and must also get certified to use equipment like tasers and radar devices. They learn to complete paperwork for a vast array of offenses, and they must know the laws they’ll be enforcing. Officers must know how to investigate crimes like home burglaries, which may include taking pictures, lifting fingerprints and collecting DNA samples.
Bledsoe said new officers even learn to identify rabid animals, because at times they must respond to animal control incidents. The trainees must know the directives and procedures in a 400-page manual, so the list goes on and on.
Clawson said it was helpful to train with a number of officers in the department.
“Some officers have different tactics they like to use, or are stronger in some areas,” he said. “You take what you like from each officer and mold your own person.”
Before the new officers hit the streets, the staffing shortage was affecting everyone. The department always had the minimum number of officers working at one time, but staying at the required staffing level sometimes required people to change their schedules. Quimby, the community resource officer, used two days per week to go out on patrol. Detectives and lieutenants did the same, and even a records department employee worked patrol shifts. The new officers will help everything go back to normal.
“Officers who couldn’t take vacation time before will be able to take off now,” Quimby said. “It’s great when you get back to being fully staffed again.”