Topeka police are in a staffing crisis, a union official says. The police chief disagrees.
Topeka’s police chief and an office-holder with the local Fraternal Order of Police voice starkly contrasting views about whether Topeka has as many sworn police officers as it needs.
“We are operating fine, and we will continue to do so,” Police Chief Brian Wheeles said at a news conference last week.
But Matt Blassingame, a Topeka Police Department officer who serves as the FOP’s chief steward here, disagreed.
“TPD is currently experiencing a staffing crisis,” he said.
The FOP represents Topeka police officers with the rank of sergeant and below in collective bargaining.
Having officers on suspension stretches resources ‘even thinner’
The Topeka Police Department is budgeted to employ as many as 299 sworn officers of all ranks, said Gretchen Spiker, the city’s communications director.
Thirty-eight of those positions are vacant and 261 are filled, she said.
The department is consequently “nearly 40 officers short of our budgeted manpower,” Blassingame told The Capital-Journal.
He stressed that an additional 14 Topeka police officers are on paid administrative leave as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation examines their involvement in recent shooting incidents.
Nine of those took part part in a Sept. 29 gun battle in which law enforcement officers shot and wounded a fleeing homicide suspect near S. Kansas and 6th Avenue, and five took part in the fatal shooting of a man they said charged them with a knife Oct. 13 after attempting a carjacking outside the Kwik Shop at 4500 S.W. Topeka Blvd. (NOTE: 9 Officers fired at a WHITE man wanted for a homicide, and only hit him once in the leg, and he is already out of the hospital. Several weeks earlier, several officers opened fre on a BLACK man who was only armed with a knife and having obvious serious mental health issues, The Topeka Police officers killed him, and it has been deemed “Justified”. )
“Having 14 more officers off the street due to these critical incidents does stretch our resources even thinner,” Blassingame said. (Well, why doesn’t anyone want to be a cop in Topeka now? The TPD has had an especially hard time recruiting from within the Black community in Topeka. For the same reasons that they have failed to earn any respect and trust in that community: All of the racist white supremacist cops already on the force. Even reasonable thinking white people do not want to join THAT gang.)
‘Many TPD officers have stepped up’ to work overtime
Having police work overtime is one step the department has taken to deal with the decreased number of available officers.
“TPD prepares for situations such as this, and wants to assure the community that public safety is, and continues to be the priority of the agency,” Spiker said. “Many TPD officers have stepped up to help by adjusting their schedules, or by working extra hours.”
The department’s field operations (patrol) bureau has an authorized strength of 178 sworn officers, with 28 of those jobs being vacant, meaning 150 sworn officers are serving in that bureau, Spiker said.
“With that said, all of the sworn personnel at TPD have the ability and training to answer calls for police service, which is the primary function of patrol,” she said. (Maybe it is time to….oh no! heres those horrible and most misunderstood words! “Defund the police” and instead create a “Emergency Mental Health Response and Intervention Team”? Trained mental health counselors and social workers who can deal with people in crises and domestic disputes and connect people in need to services and resources instead of expecting street cops to do that kind of work that they are clearly untrainable for.)
Topeka police leave some officers’ jobs temporarily unfilled
The Topeka Police Department came close to filling all its budgeted positions in 2013, when — for a time — 298 of its authorized 300 sworn officers’ jobs were staffed, according to Capital-Journal archives.
But the department rarely, if ever, reaches its authorized strength.
One reason is because the city has historically asked its departments to help balance the city budget by achieving some “vacancy credit” savings realized from having jobs vacant so departments don’t to pay their salary and benefits costs.
“Vacancy credits are used during the budget process to lower the overall expense of the budget due to anticipated vacant positions,” Spiker said. “The amount budgeted is based off of historical levels.”
The practice of using vacancy credits is common in government and private sectors, she said.
The city was budgeted this year to achieve $817,071 in vacancy credit savings for 2022, the mayor and council heard July 26 from Stephen Wade, who was then the city’s administrative and financial services director and is now city manager.
The city is currently on pace by the end of this year to realize that amount plus an additional $2,964,600 in personnel savings for a total of $3,781,671 in personnel savings, Spiker said.
‘Doing a great job,’ Topeka police chief says
Though Blassingame and Wheeles don’t see eye-to-eye about the adequacy of the police department’s current staffing, they agree about the quality of the performance of its officers.
“The troops are doing a great job,” Wheeles said.
Blassingame said: “Despite these challenges, the men and woman of the Topeka Police Department continue to step forward and diligently protect and serve our community. The FOP is appreciative of all our law enforcement officers who dedicate themselves to make our community a safer place to live and work.”
Tim Hrenchir can be reached at 785-213-5934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.