One night earlier this week, Mission police received a call about suspicious activity near the Martway Hy-Vee. When an officer arrived on the scene, the vehicle in question fled, speeding toward Metcalf. As the car attempted to merge onto the highway, the driver took a turn too fast, and the car flipped.
Two of the occupants of the vehicle were seriously injured and needed to be transported to the hospital. Two of the occupants also had warrants out for their arrest. Suddenly, all three Mission police officers on patrol that night — the minimum required — were tied up responding to the crash.
“I have two people going to the hospital. I’ve got two people in custody because they have warrants. I’ve got a car flipped over close to the highway,” said Mission Police Chief Ben Hadley. “And now I’ve got no [police officers] driving the streets.”
To comply with patrol guidelines, Mission police had to call on neighboring police departments to assist them.
That incident was illustrative of the challenges Mission, and many other Johnson County law enforcement agencies, have faced over the past few years as officer turnover has increased and it’s become increasingly difficult to find certified replacements.
In hopes of addressing the staffing shortages in Mission and give the department some cushion if it experiences a wave of turnover, the Mission city council on Wednesday gave Hadley permission to overhire by two officers, which would bring Mission’s sworn officer count to 31 instead of the approved 29.
Other northeast Johnson County cities, including Prairie Village and Merriam, have approved similar overhiring measures in recent years.
Over the past 12 months, Mission police have seen relatively high turnover that left the department as many as five officers short of the 29 officer-level approved in the city budget. Being short that many officers causes a number of issues, said City Manager Laura Smith.
For one, the department has a harder time filling shifts, meaning there are times when only three officers, the minimum level, are on patrol. It also puts a heavier burden on the officers that remain, which can lead to burn out, compounding the turnover problem.
Smith noted that being understaffed in the police department doesn’t provide any real cost savings to the city because the city is required to staff its shifts with at least three officers at all times, and it must pay overtime to officers who are called in to work extra shifts.
“When we start being four officers down, five officers down, potentially more, that’s when it really starts to become concerning,” Smith said. “And that’s the situation that the chief and his command staff are really looking to address.”
The city recently completed a market analysis of compensation for its officers, and adjusted its scale to make it more competitive with other Johnson County departments. Smith and Hadley said they believed this would allow Mission to attract and retain more officers who are already certified.
“When we look at overhiring, we’re looking at bringing in certified officers so we can put them on the streets sooner than [if we were] putting them through the academy,” Smith said.
Incoming Mayor Ron Appletoft said he was comfortable with the request to overhire because he believed it would provide an average staffing level that allowed the department to fill its shifts even if the department experienced turnover.