Council pumps up police staffing

Like all City Council stories for the Liberty Hill Independent, this story was written the night of the meeting. Council meetings were held on Monday nights, and the paper’s weekly deadline was Tuesday morning.

Published September 15, 2017 in the Liberty Hill Independent

In a move overturning the city administrator’s effort to curb police spending, the Liberty Hill City Council voted unanimously Monday to add funding for two new patrol officers as well as a clerical position to the city’s proposed 2018 budget.

The change puts the police department budget at $1.03 million— a 40 percent increase over 2016, and a 116 percent increase over 2015.

“This will put us in a much better position to meet the minimum staffing levels,” Police Chief Maverick Campbell said to council members after the vote.

City Administrator Greg Boatright remained largely silent for the discussion except to introduce the agenda item by saying that he “still recommended the budget that was discussed last week.”

During preliminary budget talks Campbell originally requested funding for four additional patrol positions. After discussions with the mayor and city administrator, the request was reduced to one additional officer and a clerical position.

But during a council budget workshop August 21, Campbell said although he agreed earlier that day to cut back on his request, it would take two new patrol positions to keep the city covered 24 hours a day with two officers on duty at night.

Monday, the Council voted unanimously to give the police department the two officers he requested in addition to the clerical position.

Council Member Liz Rundzieher, who introduced the motion, asked Campbell if two new patrol officers would allow his department to fill out a 24-hour patrol even in weeks when staffing was temporarily reduced.

“There’s always that 5 percent chance,” Campbell said. “But this will put us in a better position to have no officers alone during the peak hours of felonious crimes.”

During night hours this summer, the department interrupted one active burglary.

Earlier this month, Boatright was vocal in challenging Campbell’s budget request, saying that last year the Council had been told that eight officers would be sufficient to fill out Campbell’s goal of a 24-hour patrol. He said the Council had been “generous” in both last year’s budget and with the one currently proposed.

Final approval of the 2018 budget is slated for September 18.

Expanding police patrols to a full 24-hours has been a goal of Campbell’s since he was hired as Liberty Hill’s police chief last summer. Campbell has said the new late night shifts will thwart a coming increase in crime he expects would otherwise accompany the city’s growth.

The new patrols also belong to Campbell’s larger campaign to carve out a more active and visible role for the department, an effort which has routinely won praise from council members.

Council member Wendell McLeod congratulated Campbell for sending two officers last week to join Round Rock’s department in assisting Houston police, whose forces have been stretched thin in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Officers Royce Graeter and Greg Gonzalez returned Sunday.

Council member Jon Branigan raised the prospect of introducing an amendment to the budget which would create an additional police position for a school resource officer. The proposal, which if passed would require budget talks to be delayed into November, was shot down by the mayor and other council members.

Campbell responded positively to the idea.

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