MATTHEWS – An in-depth look at the Matthews Police Department by the Center for Public Safety Management found the town needs to hire additional personnel to keep up with population growth.
CPSM reviewed all of the department’s crime data and policies, as well as interviewed command staff. Matthews Chief of Police Clark Pennington presented the group’s findings April 8 to town commissioners.
“This company came in and did a complete deep dive of the agency,” Pennington said. “They wanted to make sure to know how the department operates. They went on ride-alongs with the police officers. They gathered a lot of information for this.”
Some of the many procedural and policy recommendations in the 160-page report have already been implemented or are being implemented by the department while other recommendations will have to be approved by commissioners through the annual budget process.
Tops on that list of recommendations is adding additional staff to the department. Because of the explosive growth Matthews has experienced over the last few years, CPSM recommends the department add two lieutenants to its command structure. It also suggested an additional detective be added to the vice-narcotics unit, that the department should hire a crime analyst and that several clerical positions be added that would help free up officers by providing assistance with administrative work.
The report also recommends the town deploy a license plate reader in one patrol vehicle per shift and that GPS be installed in all patrol vehicles.
Town Manager Hazen Blodgett told the board that staff would put together recommendations and bring those suggestions back to them for consideration.
“We have had a lot of internal discussions about it,” Blodgett said. “There is good news in there about the operation of the department. To the chief’s credit, and I think it is painful because professionals have said this is where we need to be. The chief is not insensitive to the other side of the ledger. OK, we are not going to do this overnight. How do we do this over time? What is the most critical? We have already started talking about it.”
The department currently does not have any lieutenants in its command structure. A lieutenant would ensure increased accountability and provide proactive crime reduction and prevention strategies, especially in targeted high-crime areas. Having two lieutenants would also help fill the void when another officer has to appear in court or is out sick.
“They are recommending two lieutenants to patrol,” Pennington said. “A lieutenant would be assigned two squads and he would get two sergeants that he would supervise and make sure that he has a relief factor.”
Vice-narcotics currently has one sergeant and one street-level detective in the unit that received 40 tips last year, 14 of which are closed while 26 are still pending. The unit also deals with overdoses that result in death.
“We really have one detective working on these tips,” Pennington said. “It becomes problematic on closing the cases but also officer safety because they are working alone. In this type of work, you really don’t want to see that. We would have two working on local problems and local issues.”
Pennington said having a crime analyst would help the department identify crime patterns and chronic problems and determine the when, where, how and why those crimes are occurring.
Commissioner John Higdon asked Pennington if the report was more like a Utopian police department where money was no object or a more reasonable assessment of the department’s needs.
“I feel like this is our minimum,” Pennington said. “We are not able to do what we need to do. I think that these are the minimums that we are looking at. We have not added a police officer in 13 years to operational improvements.”
Some of the recommendations in the report could be met if the town’s grant application from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program is approved later this year. If approved, the grant would help fund three officers and a corporal to work on traffic enforcement, which would allow two officers currently assigned there to be moved to the patrol division.
If the grant is approved, it would pay 80 percent of the four officers’ salaries the first year, 70 percent the second year and 50 percent the third year in addition to covering all of the cost for equipment, such as patrol vehicles and other necessary items. After three years, Matthews could reapply for the grant but the department would keep all the equipment if the grant is not renewed.