Police reorganize patrol officers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 31, 2011

By Shelley Smith
SALISBURY — Police Chief Rory Collins said the minute he was sworn-in as chief, he wanted to reorganize the police department, and wanted to take back the streets of Salisbury.
But he had to change some things. Collins didn’t think the way the department had been operating was effective enough for Salisbury’s needs.
The efficiency problem wasn’t a result of the leadership of former police chief Mark Wilhelm, he says, but the department’s structure, with the problem lying mainly in the functionality of the patrol unit.
Collins revealed the department’s reorganization last week, with the community in mind.
“Right from the beginning I had planned on implementing changes I thought were needed in order to strengthen our leadership, bring more accountability to our leadership, in order to better develop our officers for growth and advancement in their careers and provide what I believe to be an improved level of service for our community,” he said.
Patrol problems
The patrol unit, Collins said, is one of the most important parts of the department, “because that is where the citizens and community oftentimes have their very first interaction with our department.”
It’s vital, he said, that the patrol unit runs smoothly and efficiently.
The former structure had four teams of patrol officers. Each team was led by a sergeant and Collins said the responsibilities placed on each sergeant were too much for one person.
“The sergeants had too large of a span of control, entirely too much to keep up with and monitor in order to be effective,” Collins said.
Collins said a patrol sergeant’s typical duties included monitoring every call for service, monitoring where every officer is at all times, reviewing every piece of paperwork generated by officers, completing evaluations for the officers, overseeing scheduling and training, finding time to develop officers, training and guiding officers, and providing counseling.
“That, in my opinion, was entirely too much to keep up with for one person,” Collins said. “Oftentimes our patrol officers have stayed so busy that it was difficult for the sergeant to effectively be able to monitor all of the calls for service that were taking place at one time.”
Collins has assigned a lieutenant to each of the four patrol teams. Each patrol team of 10 officers is led by a sergeant, who is directed by a lieutenant.
“This will allow the lieutenant to effectively run the team and conduct all of the administrative duties that go along with running a team,” Collins said. “That lieutenant is also responsible for the development of the officers on the team, and, essentially, the overall management that is necessary for all of the individuals that are assigned to that particular team.”
And because the patrol teams stay so busy, answering between 40,000 and 42,000 calls a year, the patrol officers are sometimes not able to be as proactive in the community as Collins would like.
“We expect our officers to work in a community policing philosophy,” Collins said, where officers partner with the communities in which they are assigned.
“I take very seriously the relationship between the department and the community,” Collins said. “As part of the community policing philosophy, we want these officers to have the time to get out of the cars and get to know the people within their patrol areas.”
Collins said the interactions are beneficial and help to build trust in the community.
“If the relationship is there, and there’s a higher level of trust, then we are going to get more information from our citizens, and people are going to call us when something’s not right a little sooner than they may have before.”
The solution? A street crimes unit, which department employees have dubbed the Police Interdiction Team, or PIT team, to “provide service that our patrol officers have been struggling to provide,” Collins said, and complement the patrol function of the department.
Street crimes
PIT is brand new, and Sgt. John Lanier oversees the team of seven officers, with Chris Schenk as the assistant team leader.
“Every day is unique,” Schenk said. “We don’t know what we’ll be doing.”
Collins said three things will help steer PIT to fight crime and be proactive daily: information gained from the community; information gained by officers about specific activity and where things are taking place; and crime statistics.
And in order to get “maximum coverage,” Collins said, PIT has been divided into two teams, one working while the other is off. But there will also be several days a week where schedules overlap and everyone is working together.
“The objective of this team will be to be highly vigilant and aggressively battle against criminal activity within our neighborhoods,” Collins said.
The team has already had success on the streets, and their presence is known, Schenk and Collins said.
Last week, PIT frequented Tar Branch Park and Shaver Street, where a number of complaints originate and problems begin.
“We’re trying to let people know we’re showing up on a daily basis and are going to take the streets back,” Schenk said. “With our units, we try our best to back each other up.”
Schenk said PIT will frequently work with the drug unit and will also work on gang activity.
“This unit has a lot of opportunity to be really effective,” he said.
New divisions
Among the new positions and ranks within the department, two have been awarded to Operations Division Capt. Melonie Thompson and Services Division Capt. Shelia Lingle.
They each oversee all activities in their divisions, including the work of their subordinates and all personnel matters and are responsible for all citizen concerns or complaints pertaining to safety in their communities, and directing those officers’ responses.
Thompson is over all patrol teams and traffic officers. She will also be responsible for all permits, such as parades, races and street closures, as well as ABC permitting. And she will do grant research.
Lingle is over the investigations division, including PIT, criminal investigations and the drug unit. She also oversees support services, which includes training, 911 communications, records and school resource officers.
Lingle is also the department’s public information officer — a position it didn’t have previously. She also manages taxi permitting and conducts Condition of Community reports and citizen surveys.
Collins said he selected Lingle and Thompson for the new leadership roles because they were “best suited to help take our department forward in a positive direction.”
“I have full confidence in the abilities of both of these well-rounded and professional women, and know that they will help to guide our department just exactly as I feel it should be,” he said.
Cost of change
Collins promoted 11 officers, and moved folks around to better serve the community, he says.
And Collins isn’t the only chief yearning for a community-backed police force — Greensboro Police Chief Ken Miller reorganized his department just five months in as chief.
Miller told the News and Record of Greensboro he hopes to rebuild trust in the police department. He created new bureaus, cutting and adding positions to fit the needs of the community.
With more than 400 sworn employees, Miller had more to work with and was able to cut and add positions, which could reduce overtime pay and save the department about $137,000 annually.
The Salisbury Police Department has 106 sworn positions. Collins didn’t provide dollar figures, but said his reorganization involved no job cuts or layoffs and will have a “minimal” impact on costs.
“This is because I am implementing this new structure with the exact same number of staff as what I had,” he said.
‘Tremendous benefit’
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz praised Collins’ leadership and his focus on the community, and said she’s looking forward to seeing the new departmental structure at work.
“Now that he has gotten this in place and made promotions, I’m just very excited because I think it’s going to definitely be a tremendous benefit to the city and to our public safety,” Kluttz said.
The mayor said she is particularly looking forward to the street crimes unit.
“I do know that sometimes we have frustrations in neighborhoods that patrol units can’t get to as quickly as people would like them to,” she said. “This will address those problems, and I think we will see a much more efficient police department.”
Collins said the reorganization and community-oriented policing will help strengthen Salisbury.
“I feel that by providing a more enhanced level of service, brought about by improved management that I have put into place and better overall accountability, and by providing a team to more effectively deal with community issues and concerns, I believe we will be able to improve the trust that our community has in us,” he said.
“I also believe this process should put a higher visibility in the community and even enable the officers to exit their cars to meet with folks in their community,” he said. “These things are what community policing is all about.”

• PIT: Police Interdiction Team
This newly developed street crimes team, composed of a lieutenant, assistant team leader, and seven officers, will hit the streets day and night, focusing on hot spots for crime and complaints.
• Patrol Units
Each of the four patrol units, composed of 10 officers, used to be supervised by a sergeant only. Each unit now has a lieutenant overseeing the sergeant and officers, which will help patrol officers become more effective, and help build relations in the communities they work in, instilling faith and trust in the police department.
• Division Captains
Two new ranks — operations division captain and services division captain — oversee nearly every employee and operation within the police department. Operations Division Capt. Melonie Thompson will oversee all patrol and traffic units, and Services Division Capt. Shelia Lingle will oversee investigations and support services.
Their positions entail a very broad range of duties, including permitting, grant research and public information requests.
• Professional Standards
Lt. Andy Efird will now oversee all internal affairs and also be in charge of the department’s accreditation. Police Planner Michael Dhooghe will work with Efird on accreditation, and is also the crime analyst.
• Civilian Positions
Two civilian positions were added -— one in the dispatch center and the other in accreditation. The reason for changing the accreditation position to civilian, is due to the fact that the position needs stability and there is a lot to learn, Collins said.
Contact reporter Shelley Smith at 704-797-4246.