More cops needed; finding them a dilemma

Darrell Todd Maurina

Both the Clovis Police Department and Curry County Sheriff’s Office say they need more officers to control increasing crime, but Clovis police have an unusual problem: While the department has a grant to hire two new school resource officers, it is having trouble finding people to fill the positions.
On Tuesday, the Public Safety Committee of the Clovis City Commission will meet at 10 a.m. in the Bert Cabiness City Government Center to hear a presentation by Capt. Dan Blair on staffing issues.
“Right now, as it stands, we have two people,” Blair said. “Over the years, the schools have paid for one officer, half of a second, and $25,000 toward a third. Next year, they will not be able to do that.”
While the schools can no longer afford the payments, the police department has received a three-year grant that will allow the department to increase the number of school resource officers from two to four, raising the total number of Clovis police officers from 62 to 64.
The problem has been hiring people qualified to fill the posts.
“We can’t just go out and say we are hiring school resource officers,” Blair said. “We hire police officers, but then they can apply to be school resource officers.”
Blair said recruiting police officers is hard throughout the state.
“There are a number of reasons,” Blair said. “Mostly, it’s a change in society overall in how it views law enforcement. Law enforcement as a profession has changed over the years; it’s a different kind of work and a different kind of person is needed.”
Blair said that when he took his exams to become an officer, about 40 people applied.
“Now we are lucky to get three or four,” Blair said.
Getting a police officer qualified to work in the schools as a school resource officer is particularly difficult, Blair said, and the lack of staff has made it harder to do that work effectively.
“A school resource officer has to work first in the schools — not as an enforcement officer but developing programs and working side-by-side with administrators and family members to make schools a safer place,” Blair said. “Too often, I think, because we are short-handed, it is directed more toward enforcement.”
The department’s two current school resource officers are Officer Del Rice, who works at the high school, and Officer Chrissy Jacklin, who works with the three junior high schools in Clovis.
The Curry County Sheriff’s Office is also short-staffed: one of its 13 deputy positions is vacant. However, Sheriff Roger Hatcher said he needs more than just one additional officer.
“With the resources we have trying to deal with the problem, it would be like President Bush sending 10,000 soldiers to take Iraq,” Hatcher said. “I would not say we are even keeping up, we are getting farther and farther behind.”
Hatcher said the increase in local crime is driven largely by the increase in drug traffic.
“The FBI national statistics have documented that just about 95 percent of all criminal activity, whether it is robberies, burglaries, or assaults and batteries, can be attributed to drug abuse, whether it is someone trying to get money for drugs or under the influence of drugs and getting mad to hurt someone else,” Hatcher said.
While the Clovis school resource officers use education and drug resistance programs to help junior and senior high students, Hatcher said his deputies often have to deal with the consequences of drug abuse in families with younger children.
“It is detestable to have to go into these homes (of drug users), especially after they have children,” Hatcher said. “I can’t say that it is policy, but every time we go into these homes, if there is a child we charge the parents with criminal child abuse and do referrals to social services and take steps to take children away.”
Hatcher said parents who use drugs set an example that makes it more likely their children will use drugs.
“If we don’t break that cycle, the children are going to be doing it as well,” Hatcher said. “As far as I can see, it’s worse for the children than beating them.”