*Editor's note: This article is part one of a three-part series that will detail how police, fire and emergency medical personnel plan to serve the Waxahachie community during and after the anticipated population boom.
As more people look to make Waxahachie their home a higher demand is placed on city services. In response to the influx of new residents, the Waxahachie Police Department has begun planning for the future today.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported the population of Waxahachie to be 34,345 as of July 1, 2016. This growth is a 16 percent increase from the 2010 census numbers.
In response to that growth, Waxahachie Assistant Police Chief Joe Wiser stated the most significant overall challenge faced by the department is the need to remain connected with the community.
“The feeling of connection between citizens of our community with the police has never been more important, and it is incumbent on police agencies to work diligently to facilitate and foster those opportunities to have the two come together,” Wiser said. “Law enforcement has long understood the benefits of bringing citizens and officers together in order to maintain a connection. Although growth can create logistical strains on that endeavor, growth can also create unique opportunities.”
Wiser stated such outreach programs like Coffee with a Cop, National Night Out and Chat with a Chief connects both groups. It provides a forum for thoughts, concerns, and ideas to be shared.
The department has created a five-year plan that looks at its current operations and the needs for the future. One of the needs identified in the program is the need for both additional sworn peace officers and civilian employees.
A development such as North Grove subdivision, which has a total build-out of about 2,200 residential lots, is a driving factor. The department is currently planning to add the North Grove subdivision to its patrol area.
“I think the request is going to include somewhere in the realm of 10-12 officers. We are also wanting to branch out and do some new things that are new for Waxahachie but not necessarily new for law enforcement,” Wiser explained. “We are looking to add some civilian positions that might supplement some of the work that the officers do like being able to take a report that not necessarily require a sworn officer to do.”
Wiser noted other civilian positions that the department hopes to add to the roster are in its records and communications sections. He shared that communications dispatches for both the fire and police departments. The department added two dispatchers in the last budget cycle.
The department is active in its recruiting efforts and is working to bring experienced officers to the city. Individuals who are already certified as Texas peace officers can join the department through its lateral transfer program.
Wiser stated several people who previously served with the Dallas Police Department have recently joined the department through this program.
New resources the department has acquired will be used to help officers keep the public safe as the community grows. Some of these tools include the new surveillance trailers that were purchased through a grant and recently put into service. Through an internet connection, officers can access the trailers' cameras, which give them an aerial view to monitor.
A report released by Waxahachie Police showed the department responded to 919 offenses in 2016, which reduced to 800 offenses in 2017. Arrests by Waxahachie officers totaled 1,147 in 2016 and 1,307 in 2017. Factors such as individuals arrested for outstanding warrants attributed to this increase.
The report also showed one particular crime on the rise — vehicle theft. Fifty-two vehicles were stolen in 2016 and 71 in 2017.
Wiser shared one of the areas the department is evaluating is the need for specialized groups that focus their efforts on a single type of crime.
“Part of the reason behind requesting more officers is to add divisions. We are trying to balance the need to add officers to the patrol function for answering day-to-day calls but also moving into an area where we can focus on narcotics and things like that.” Wiser explained. “We have a canine officer, and we have got a traffic unit. We hope to expand those and hopefully narcotics.”
Wiser added, if appropriately done, these divisions would take some of the stress off of the patrol unit. The department is at the tipping point where the need is present, but there are not enough personnel yet.
Wiser shared a key that will help the department grow with the city is through the formation of community partnerships. These partnerships help build trust and strengthen ties. He hopes the new police station, which opens in July, will play a role in the formation of these relationships.
“As more people move in, an increase in staff and equipment will be necessary to provide services to the added numbers. There again, city government is working hard to make that possible,” Wiser stated. “The excitement generated by the employees of the Waxahachie Police Department regarding our new police building can be described as pure energy. The new building provides multiple areas specifically designed to host training, meetings, and public events, all with the hope of facilitating connectivity among officers and the community we serve.”
Wiser added — despite the growth Waxahachie is experiencing — the department feels that continuing to provide top quality services to the residents and maintaining a strong focus on community outreach and will increase the chance for success in managing growth.