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Victoria wrestles with police exodus

By By Caty Hirst - CHIRST@VICAD.COM
Sept. 8, 2012 at 4:08 a.m.
Updated Feb. 22, 2013 at 8:23 p.m.

Victoria Police Officer Josh Robinson stops to chat with a resident while on patrol in Victoria early one Sunday morning. ANDREA WISE/AWISE@VICAD.COM

Why the 18 left

Here is a breakdown of departures:

• 2 - terminated,

• 2 - retired,

• 7 - left law enforcement entirely

• 7 - left for another law enforcement agency.

The Victoria Police Department has had to shuffle positions to keep enough personnel on the street and has stepped up recruiting in the wake of a recent exodus of officers.

Sgt. Eline Moya, spokeswoman for the department, said 18 officers have left for various reasons since January. The department is budgeted for 116 officers.

"Unfortunately, because of staffing challenges, we did have to look at other less essential job responsibilities, and divert personnel from there to support the mission of patrol," said Police Chief J.J. Craig.

Two student resource officers were reassigned to patrol, and another two were among a total of five officers who left for a startup department in Cypress-Fairbanks, near Houston.

"We are not going to impact the core mission of this organization, and that is patrol," Craig said. "When citizens pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1, they are going to get a dispatcher. And they are also going to get a patrol officer."

Still, Craig said the school resource program is important and called in the Victoria County Sheriff's Office to help staff the schools.

After hiring two new deputies, the sheriff's office has provided four of the seven officers for the program.

"It needed to happen," said Chief Deputy Terry Simons, of the sheriff's office. "We couldn't see campuses going uncovered ... The sheriff was confident we could fill the slots."

One reason for the recent departures, Craig said, is officers did not have many opportunities for pay increases.

The proposed pay plan in the city's budget, however, makes the department competitive again, he said.

Being able to broadcast a set pay plan will also help with recruiting, Craig said.

"The feedback we have received from those individuals who have not chosen Victoria is they felt they could not look longer term," he said.

With 12 open officer positions, Craig said the department has been aggressively recruiting at colleges, police academies and from other departments, using advertising, new videos and word of mouth.

A short video released in June has been playing in the Victoria movie theater on every screen, according to Moya.

"The primary goal with the recruiting video was to attract people from the Crossroads who may or may not have ever given thought to a career in law enforcement," said Officer Chris Guerra, who helped produce the video.

Another video, which is about 10 minutes long, will be shown at academies and hiring fairs.

Craig said he has hired four cadets who are going through the police academy, all of whom should graduate in December.

One of the new cadets, Jonathan Hein, of Spring, said he became interested in law enforcement after nine years in the military.

He applied in Victoria because of its reputation for professionalism, he said.

"From my opinion, and what I have read, they have been a leader for the law enforcement community in Texas," Hein said.

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