LAWTON, Okla._It is no secret the Lawton Police Department has been understaffed for quite some time.
On Tuesday, the severity of the officer shortage was brought to the City Council's attention. The specific incident occurred two weeks ago when several officers called in sick. This resulted in there only being five officers on patrol, when there are supposed to be at least 12.
The watch commander called in some off-duty officers to fill in. Within a few hours, the patrol roster was back up to a full 12 for the remainder of the day. He says, fortunately, it happened on a Sunday morning when call volume is low, so there were no major incidents, but recognizes having enough officers on the street is a safety concern for everyone.
Chief Smith says officers are placed in one of 12 patrol zones across the city.
"With that, we have our commanding officers, our supervisors, and that's divided up in east/west. So, we have a supervisor for the west side of town and a supervisor for the east," Chief Smith explained.
Also on duty is a watch commander who oversees the entire city. So, at any given time, there are at least 15 officers to respond to calls. Chief Smith says they are able to get more than 50 officers on the street very quickly if there's ever a major incident.
"We have our detectives, we have our gang, our gang unit, we have special ops," Chief Smith said.
He says they are able to even call in reinforcements from lake patrol if needed. Of course, the department would like to have more and are in the midst of training some potential officers.
"We're going to have two academy classes going every year, so that we can increase our numbers," Chief Smith said.
But in the meantime, they'll have to "utilize overtime to get some of the staffing levels up to where it's needed."
The city's implementation of a sales tax extension may provide some relief for the department.
"We're going to increase our numbers to an additional 18 officers, but we can't just do that overnight," Chief Smith said.
Chief Smith has been taking a turn patrolling recently. He says it helps take some of the burden off of his officers and gives him a firsthand look at what they need to be more efficient.