Lincoln police give fewer traffic tickets amid ongoing low staffing levels
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - It was a packed room and a heartfelt ceremony that greeted the Lincoln Police Department’s nine newest officers. Nine officers, sorely needed, amid an ongoing struggle to recruit new officers.
LPD is currently short 27 officers, that’s about 7 percent of the force and that includes 10 recruits yet to go through training.
“We’re trying to get as many get up to our level of 366,” said Chief Teresa Ewins.
Ewins said the retirements of officers who joined in the 1990s are the biggest driver for vacancies right now.
“They can retire if they want to,” Ewins said. “It’s hard being a police officer. And people just make decisions for themselves and their families so they have left the profession.”
The drop in officers hasn’t come without consequences.
For example, drivers in Lincoln are less likely to get a traffic ticket now, compared to any time in the past three decades.
In 2022, LPD gave out about 20,036 tickets. That’s a 30-year low with the average being more than 40,000 tickets written a year.
“Our staffing for our traffic unit, we had to send them back to the teams for now, so that’s a big part of it,” Ewins said.
Officer burnout is another since officers not only respond to calls but also do their own investigations.
“It’s hard on them,” Ewins said. “They have to go to calls but their backlog on cases can be high.”
Captain Tarvis Banks said they’ve been working hard to try and keep morale up.
“You have to have officers work double shifts, sometimes you’d have officers come in on their days off to work additional shifts,” Banks said. “We try to balance our shifts or our schedules to make it easier for a lot of employees.”
The chief also said they have brought in retired officers to help with investigations, which includes things like collecting video evidence, getting statements, and making phone calls.
The department said it also has to re-think the way it recruits.
“We have to change with the times,” said Captain Mayde McGuire. “We’re always evolving.”
The department’s added a dedicated recruitment officer, they now accept applicants year-round and they’ve increased the amount of job fairs they go to, even adding a recruitment vehicle. It doesn’t hurt that officers also got raises. Lincoln Police Officers are now the highest paid in the state with a starting salary of about $64,000.
“We actually we’ve seen an increase in applications and we’ve really seen an increase in lateral applications, which laterals are law enforcement certified officers, either within the state or even out of state,” McGuire said.
10/11′s own reporting shows staffing progress too. A story done on LPD staffing in June of last year showed the department had 40 vacancies.
Ewins said she believes the department is moving in the right direction to fill open spots, but they’re not hiring just anyone. Ewins said she’s focused on diversity in those candidates.
“We’re hitting our mark on the 30 percent for 30 by 30 campaign,” Ewins said. “You know, our officers have a huge amount of diversity with language, which as everyone knows, our community is becoming more and more diverse with refugees as well as immigrants.”
She said the new class is a great example of that, with officers who come from different backgrounds from Afghanistan to small towns in Nebraska.
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