The annual DARE Camp and National Night Out in Arkansas City are being canceled due to a shortage of police officers, Chief Dan Ward told city commissioner on Friday, and school resource officers are needed on patrol.
Ward said he doesn’t have the staff resources to support those programs this year. School resource officers (SROs) normally handle the DARE camp, which was scheduled for late July. But this year he needs them to be on patrol.
The local National Night Out is usually held in October.
“We are facing a staffing shortage, and that is increasing daily,” Ward said.
Ward said he has 16 patrol officers but six are currently unavailable, or 37.5 percent of the local force. Three officers are in training at the academy and will not return to patrol until late October.
In addition, one position is open, one officer is on light-duty maternity leave and another on family medical leave not expected to return to duty.
“I have another officer that’s going on maternity leave shortly, so I will be down another person,” he said.
Ward said that minimum staffing is 12 officers but he will be down to nine.
He also is concerned about the Last Run Car Show and Arkakalah. Both events are huge drains on department resources and he was also concerned about the close contact his officers would have with those in attendance.
”If I start getting officers that get COVID and they are out for two weeks, it’s going to be next to impossible to cover that,” he said.
Ward said the Big Parade during Arkalalah would require all of his officers to be on duty. He also normally brings in an additional 28 officers to help cover the parade.
He said under the current circumstances, it would be difficult if not impossible to find additional officers this year.
“I don’t know how in the heck we’re going to recruit at this point,” he said. “I’ll be frank with you, I’ll be surprised if I don’t see more officers departing.”
Commissioner Jay Warren asked about hiring officers departing from larger cities. Ward said the is unlikely because they are accustomed to much higher pay and he is unsure how to recruit them here.
Ward said he doubted that he could get anyone to apply if he tried to recruit them right now. And it takes new recruits at least eight months before they are ready for duty.
Due the shortage, Ward said he had no choice but to implement critical operations, meaning that any qualified personnel in the department could be required to go on patrol.
“That’s why I am moving the (school resource officers) to patrol,” he said. “Next will be investigations, then it will be the captains and then I will be on patrol as well.”
He added that it is doubtful the schools will help pay for the school officers next school year due to education changes amid the pandemic.
Officers who are on duty still need to be given time off and allowed to take vacations, which makes things even more difficult, Ward added.
“This is a very tough time,” he said. “If you work them to death and you flog them like that, they’re just going to say, ’you know what, I’ve had enough.’”