HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It's been more than a decade since the Hattiesburg Police Department has been fully staffed. In years past, the department was allotted 135 officers, but with dwindling numbers and the inability to fill positions, that number's been dropped to 120.
However, the number of sworn officers is less than 90 total, and a breakdown of the numbers shows that only 12 officers are on a shift at once protecting the Hub City.
"As a city of roughly 50,000 people, and the commuter population of well over 100,000 people, we need more capacity and man power, and we know that," said Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker.
Hattiesburg Police Chief Anthony Parker said he's aware of the deficit.
"We are slotted, right now, for 120 officers for the city of Hattiesburg," said Parker.
According to manpower reports from the City of Hattiesburg, that number from the chief position down, is roughly 85 officers, with three others leaving this week.
The department operates with four platoons, meaning they run four different shifts, which amount to only 47 officers.
"Right now, currently per shift, which is four shifts, four platoons, we have approximately 12 officers per platoon," Parker said.
The breakdown of that is a lieutenant and sergeant, with roughly 10 patrol officers that patrol the streets.
In the event of an emergency, those numbers are reinforced with a handful of detectives. During the day, there are also five traffic officers that handle city traffic matters.
"We strategically place officers where needs are," Barker said.
"Sometimes our officers are stretched a little bit thin," Parker said. "But being able to move manpower around as needed, even with supervisors, even with administrative staff at times, we have to be able to be flexible in our deployment of our manpower and our resources and we do that a lot."
Chief Parker said adding any number of officers to each shift would benefit the department.
"If we can increase that per platoon, to at least 15 officers or something, per platoon, that will give us more coverage over all the city," Parker said.
When it comes to officer retention, pay and call volume are topics of discussion in the city.
"We have several challenges when it comes to officer retention," Barker said. "First, there's pay. Not only just the current level of pay, a pay that justifies the intense call volume that a Hattiesburg police officer will have."
According to Chief Parker, the number of calls officers respond to in Hattiesburg averages around 9,000 a month.
"That's a lot of calls coming through that radio and dispatch," Parker said. "Because of the call volume here in Hattiesburg, our officers, when they come on shift, it's not really any slack in their response from when they come on to when they go 10-7, which is going off duty. They stay busy."
Mayor Barker said his administration is researching pay scales and step raises that could prove to be more enticing to keep officers.
"We have enough officers to do what we need to be responsive to your needs, but we do need more officers," Parker said. "Our goal is to get there, and we are being proactive and accomplishing that goal. With the new administration, that's a big push."
The department has started reaching out across the state, as well as nationally in hopes of recruiting officer candidates to join the department.
Another way comes with the transition and retirement of Assistant Chief Frank Misenhelter, who will be in charge of building a larger than normal recruit class.
"We see it as an opportunity for him to have a true legacy project, where he can recruit a very large and qualified academy class that will be in the Hattiesburg ranks for quite some time," Barker said.
Mayor Barker said that he is in discussion with the city council to bring in a second assistant chief to help with the needs of the department.
Another reason officers are leaving, according to Chief Parker, is the quality of training provided to Hattiesburg recruits.
"Yes, our numbers are low, but we do lose a lot of officers to other agencies," Parker said. "But that's understandable. A lot of folks look to us because they know we do a lot of good training here, we have quality officers here, so when the other big agencies come looking for talent, even federal agencies, we are the first organization they come to look for because they know what type of officers we have."
In years past, some of those officers have even taken pay cuts to leave the department to go elsewhere and work for other agencies, which Parker attributes to call volume.
Mayor Barker said he has high expectations for the future of the department.
"We want people who want to come here, to make a difference," Barker said. "We want men and women out there who are looking for an opportunity to come here and help write a better story, not only for our police department, but for our entire city. There is such opportunity for someone who wants a chance, who wants to get involved and wants to do well."
"I want to be prepared for the citizens of Hattiesburg to have enough officers to cover the city," Parker said. "My job here is to make sure, when I transition out, whenever that is, that Hattiesburg is in good condition to move forward, and I'm going to put in place the personnel and the positions that need to be to make a smooth transition whenever I do move on."
When Mayor Barker first took office, online applications were accepted for every director's position, including the police chief.
Since then, no decisions have been made public on the police chief's position or the future plans for the department, other than the ongoing discussions with city council regarding bringing in a second assistant chief.