North Platte Police Department fights staffing difficulties

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NORTH PLATTE, Neb.-- Being a police officer is not a nine to five job. Because of the unpredictable nature of incidents, like accidents or trespassing reports, the role requires a lot of work outside normal hours.

Sometimes, there is a need for officers to work overtime; but, it can be hard to find an officer who is available to take the hours.

"A 12-hour shift is a long shift," Officer Daniel Wilkerson with the North Platte Police Department said, referring to the regular shifts that an officer normally works. "Then, you add time on top of it, or if you have to work your days off, it does take you away from your family, which can be tough."

Working overtime is not always easy and there is a shortage of officers who can answer the call.

Deputy Chief Jim Agler with the North Platte Police Department said that part of the reason that the department is struggling to find officers is that the city is home to multiple competitive employers, like Union Pacific and the WalMart Distribution Center.

"If someone is sick and we have a big incident happen, it's been a real struggle to get officers to come in," Agler said. "We only have, at the most, six officers, if everyone is at work."

Agler said that a full shift during peak hours is seven officers.

The North Platte Police Department recorded a total of 22,435 incidents from Nov. 1, 2016, to Oct. 31, 2017. These are calls that would require an officer to respond to the scene, ranging from the most serious of crimes to something minor like a loud music complaint.

This number is up six percent compared to the same, previous 12-month time span. From Nov. 1, 2015 to Oct. 31, 2016, officers responded to 21,097 incidents.

Agler said that there is no real reason for the increase in crime, but drugs, alcohol and North Platte's location along Interstate 80 could play a factor.

"We're all at a big crossroads here, so, we have a lot of activity for our population," Agler noted. "We struggle constantly to make sure officers are on duty and can work."

While the job can be stressful and the hours can take away from family time, there are some benefits to the longer shifts.

"You get compensated pretty well for that overtime," Wilkerson noted.

City Administrator Jim Hawks, along with supervisors at the police department, are keeping a close eye on the numbers.

Hawks receives a report every two weeks recording overtime hours and costs for each employee within all city departments.These records show that current overtime costs for uniformed patrol within the current fiscal year of 2017-2018 are about five point seven percent lower than they were at this time in the previous fiscal year.

The year-to-date total of overtime costs for uniformed patrol, as of Sept. 29, sits at $104,752.55.

Agler said that the police department really focuses on controlling costs and overtime and that supervisors do a great job of monitoring the numbers.

Even though the hours can be tough, Wilkerson says that he is happy to help "family" at the department.

"When you see a code red come out and they need more overtime ... and they're busy and short staffed ... it makes it a little easier to answer that call when you've been in that position," Wilkerson said.

Agler said that officers work incredibly hard, in spite of department being shorthanded.

The department has struggled with vacancies since 2014, but Agler hopes that three people currently in the training or hiring process can alleviate some of the workload.

Agler noted that the department is always looking for qualified candidates.