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Longview Police Department hires 5 officers but still not at full staff

By Sarah Thomas
June 6, 2012 at 11 p.m.

The Longview Police Department commissioned five new officers Wednesday who join the ranks of one of the highest-paid police departments in East Texas.

Even with the additions, the department remains short of full staff.

"This is one of the more exciting things I get to do," Chief Don Dingler said to a small crowd gathered at the Roy Stone Training Center for the ceremony. "We have people from all different walks of life working for the Longview Police Department. This is the next step in the journey for these officers."

The new officers - Heather McKay, Brent Creacy, Gina Villarreal, David Hickey and Wayne Krc - were joined by family and friends as Longview municipal Judge Larry Merriman administered the oath of duty.

Including the five newly commissioned officers, there are 158 officers on the department's payroll. It is authorized to have 172. Three more officers have been hired but not commissioned.

Department spokeswoman Kristie Brian said the shortage is not a crisis and the department is never at full staff.

Shawn Hara, spokesman for the city of Longview, said the police department's staffing allotment is part of the city's overall budgeting process. The police department comprises about 28 percent of the city's employees.

"The department tells the city what they think they need, and it goes from there," he said. "Like every normal budget process, there usually is more want than there are resources - no matter which department it is."

The city of Longview's fiscal year 2011-12 budget is $150.7 million. Of that, $20.3 million is set aside for the police department, with $17.5 million for personnel.

While the department may be perennially under-staffed, with a starting salary of $46,390, officers are not underpaid, according to a comparison of area departments.

A comparison of other police departments shows starting salaries in Tyler, Texarkana and Temple are all less than Longview. New officers in Tyler start at an annual salary of $42,544; in Texarkana, the starting salary is $38,386, and in Temple, new officers start at $39,716 a year.

Hara said the difference in pay could be linked to Longview's desire to recruit and retain quality officers.

"We did a compensation study about four years ago where we compared salaries to similarly sized cities," he said. "We want to make sure we have a competitive pay package because you want to be able to find good people and retain them."

Retention of officers always is an issue, Brian said. Not all newly hired officers make staying at the department a career choice, and more lucrative options sometimes lure them away.

"It's like any other job whether it is in the public or private sector," Brian said. "Some use it as a stepping stone to move on, while others make Longview their home."

That's what officer Gina Villarreal said she wants to do.

"I got my bachelor's degree in criminal justice, and I loved it," she said. "This is something I always wanted to do. I most look forward to getting out there and doing my job."

With the bachelor's degree, Villarreal said she hopes to advance within the department.

"I want to stay with this department long term and eventually go into CID (Criminal Investigations Division) and do some work there," she said.

Officer Wayne Krc, a 27-year veteran with the city of Longview, said his transition had been quick because he already worked for the department as a reservist.

"I've been reserving for nine years," Krc said. "I was in public works for the city prior to that. I said after 20 years I wanted to make a career change, so I opted to go full time. I applied and they took me in."

The city of Longview on Wednesday will hold a career fair to help fill positions within the police department and other city departments. The job fair is set 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.



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