After detective’s remarks to council, Lenexa police chief stresses staffing issues haven’t affected resident safety

Members of the Lenexa department during a National Police Week ceremony in 2017. Photo via Lenexa Police on Facebook.

By Jerry LaMartina

A Lenexa police officer has publicly expressed concern to the City Council about the number of officers who have left the department in the past year, but the city’s police chief says there’s nothing to his assertion that staffing issues had increased safety risks to current officers and the public.

Lenexa Police Chief Thomas Hongslo

Lenexa Police Cpl. Jarrod Whitcomb, who is also a detective and has worked for the department for 10 years, said during the public comment segment of the council’s Tuesday night meeting that 20 officers had left the department in the past year, and that for some shifts as few as three patrol officers have been on duty.

“This is increasingly a threat to the safety of my fellow officers…,” Whitcomb said. “The most striking comment I heard after a midnight shift with only three officers was from a recently deployed veteran who’d been to Iraq. He said ‘It’s not safe out there with only three officers.’”

But Lenexa Police Chief Tom Hongslo has refuted Whitcomb’s assertion that Lenexa’s officers or the public are at increased safety risk because of the number of officers in the department. The department’s goal is to have at least five patrol officers and a supervisor working on any given shift, and it uses crime statistics to guide its decisions on when and where to deploy its officers.

“If it ever has happened (that only three patrol officers are on duty), it’s between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., and it’s very rare,” he said. “We have a low number of calls in those hours.”

He cited departmental statistics for the average time it takes Lenexa officers to arrive on the scene after they’ve been dispatched in response to emergency and non-emergency calls:

Emergency calls:

  • 2017: 5 minutes
  • 2016: 5.1 minutes
  • 2015 4.7 minutes

Non-emergency calls:

  • 2017: 7.8 minutes
  • 2016: 7.5 minutes
  • 2015: 7 minutes

“The Lenexa public is not at risk,” Hongslo said. “We will be at your house probably faster than we’ve ever been.”

The Lenexa Police Department has 76 sworn officers and can hire as many as 18 more, for a maximum of 94. Eleven people are either currently in police academy training or scheduled to start it later this year. The patrol division has 26 sworn officers, eight shy of the department’s goal of 34 for the division.

Hongslo said that 19 officers had left the department in 2017 for various reasons, including retirement, injuries and taking jobs with other law enforcement agencies. Eleven other officers were hired in 2017.

Seven of the 19 officers who left in 2017 took jobs with other local law enforcement agencies, and five of those seven took jobs with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Hongslo said.

Two other officers have left the department so far this year, both to take jobs with the Kansas City Police Department, he said. It recently started a lateral transfer policy, reducing its required police academy training from six months to 11 weeks for veteran officers from other departments.

Other law enforcement agencies in Johnson County also have lost police officers to the Kansas City department because of its lateral transfer policy, Hongslo said.

“It’s been a game changer in law enforcement the past couple of years (regarding recruiting and retention methods),” he said. “The quantity (of potential recruits) is not out there, and neither is the quality. There was a lull in military (veterans taking jobs in law enforcement) for a while, but now that’s coming back.”

Law enforcement agencies are trying to think of ways to recruit officers, he said. Those efforts increased after several police officers were shot and killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., in 2016, and because of increased scrutiny of police practices after high-profile cases of police use of deadly force across the country in recent years.

The Lenexa department works in several ways to recruit and retain officers, Hongslo said. It pays officers on par with its peer law enforcement agencies, and the department also takes lateral transfers of officers from other agencies. The department attends job fairs, including one hosted by the city, and uses traditional advertising and social media to recruit officers.

“Hiring is difficult right now for most local agencies,” he said. “We have not cut services during this staffing reduction. Other local agencies have cut services.”

The council approved a new fiscal 2018 pay plan on Feb. 6 for all of the city’s roughly 450 employees. Implementation of the new plan will start with the March 23 paychecks, city spokeswoman Denise Rendina said.

Some job categories’ maximum salaries were reduced in the new plan, but no city employee will have a salary reduction because of the new plan, Rendina said. Those who were receiving the top salary for their job classification under the prior plan will stay at those salaries.

In response to Whitcomb’s address to the council, Mayor Michael Boehm asked City Administrator Eric Wade to confer with Hongslo and the city’s human resources director, Jim Bowers, and give the council a report at its next meeting.