The Galveston Police Department loses more than 12 sworn officers each year but replaces them at a higher rate, according to data obtained by The Daily News.
That number isn’t abnormally high for a department of 140 or 150 police officers, but that much turnover isn’t ideal, department spokesman Capt. Joshua Schirard said.
“In any industry, any company, any city government, you’re always going to have some attrition,” Schirard said. “I would also not like to lose as many as 12 officers a year.”
The largest turnover occurred in 2010, when the city reduced the authorized number of sworn officers to save money after Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in 2008. Twenty-three officers left the department in 2010, and since then turnover has been much lower, between nine and 14 people a year, the data show.
Only in 2017 was separation higher, at 20 officers, according to the data.
Police turnover has occasionally been a talking point for the Galveston Municipal Police Association, whose members have used the figures to advocate for a more attractive pension system and better pay for the department.
“Pay and pension are going to be the two driving forces that drive separation employment,” association President Jeff Murdock said. “Until you fix the pay and the pension, I think it’s going to continue to be a problem.”
While some officers who leave the department are retiring, Murdock said he’s seen people leave for “greener pastures.”
“It’s just tough here,” Murdock said. “People start crunching numbers and they realize they’re going to retire after 20 years and barely reach half of what their salary is, and you can’t live on that.”
It isn’t uncommon for officers to leave for other jobs — whether at other agencies or outside of the law enforcement field — that are more accommodating to a preferred lifestyle, said Larry Hoover, director of the Police Research Center at the Sam Houston State University College of Criminal Justice.
“You’re working evenings, weekends, and holidays, and that gets tedious at times,” Hoover said. “You never fully adjust to it. Frequently, newly hired officers in their early 20s don’t have families yet, but five, 10 years down the road, they do have families.”
Galveston’s police retention seems to be a typical percentage, however, Hoover said.
“It is a stressful occupation,” Hoover said. “When people talk stress, the immediate reaction is the TV version of law enforcement, the shootouts, the danger. I think even more profound is dealing with human tragedy and dealing with it on a daily basis.”
Regardless of the cause, the city strategizes its hiring goals to make up for the number it expects to leave the force, Schirard said.
Over the past 10 years, more than 14 officers on average were hired per year — almost two more people than the average number of officers that leave, the data show.
“We have to plan for it,” Schirard said. “We have to understand that it’s going to be there. We can take positive steps to try to decrease the attrition rate. The other avenue of that is to plan for that attrition until we can reduce that rate.”
The city is looking to over-hire six people per hiring cycle, which occurs twice a year, Schirard said. That would lead to 12 officers being cycled in as the 12 anticipated officers leave, he said.
“I can over-hire cadets to plan for that attrition,” Schirard said. “When we do experience that attrition, we already have those positions to backfill.”
The department is short 17 positions, although the city just approved to increase its authorized strength, the maximum number of sworn officer positions, to 158 people, Schirard said. Another 30 people on staff are not fully sworn officers, but are being trained, he said.
Dwayne Orrick, assistant executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, has researched police recruitment and retention for years. Recruitment is a vital piece of the puzzle, Orrick said.
“You want to hire people that fit with your agency,” Orrick said. “The more they fit, the more likely they are to stay. If they don’t fit, it causes internal anxiety whether they recognize it or not.”
Recruitment and training are expensive, Orrick said. When people eventually leave, that means the city has essentially paid for other departments to get good officers, he said.
“It’s very, very expensive,” Orrick said. “The cost is different for every department. First of all you’ve got to hire the people, then you’ve got to send them to academy, and then you have to give them equipment. It’s a huge investment.”
That seems to be the case in Galveston, where officers get a lot of experience in a short amount of time, Murdock said.
“I think it is a training ground,” Murdock said. “They can do five years of work here, which would be 15 years of work in another city. You get all that knowledge and training and you leave.”
But that training takes its toll — on money and especially time, Murdock said.
“We keep having to train 13 officers a year,” Murdock said. “We have to teach them, we have to watch out for our safety and we have to watch out for someone we’re training. You do that so many times, and you get tired.”