By Rachel Hall
Like all other police departments, patrol officers for the City of Cleveland Police Department are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week in an effort to proactively police their community. However, the growth of the Cleveland community, as well as the expanding city limits, are creating some unique challenges.
“For the first time ever, our city limits now extend into Montgomery County with the new LGI housing development on Fostoria Road,” explained Chief Darrel Broussard.
Located in one of the fastest-growing school districts in the state, and one of the fastest-growing communities in the Houston area, there has been an increase in calls for assistance to the department, especially for traffic and accidents in areas of construction.
“Our dispatchers are always on the go – they stay busy. Sometimes I check in on them to see how they are doing and they have to get back to answering calls. They service a tri-county area for 911 calls and even dispatch for the fire department and animal control, all while answering the main phone line and assisting residents who walk into the station,” said Broussard.
Each month in the first quarter of 2021 saw a double-digit increase in crashes worked by the police department in comparison to the same months in 2020. According to crash data available, this year January saw a 69 percent increase; February saw a 23 percent increase; and, March had a 48 percent increase in crashes worked by the department.
“It has been pretty challenging to watch the growth. We have felt some growing pains especially with not having enough officers for patrol,” explained Broussard.
Challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 12-15 months also placed a strain on the department when employees needed to be out on quarantine for 14 days.
“Whenever we had a turn where employees were out sick, then you had to make time to cover those shifts for people. That was pretty trying, because it created even longer hours for everyone, even a little police chief like me, to have to help cover some of those shifts,” he said.
Broussard has nothing but praise for his department regarding how they managed to work through the height of the pandemic. There was some fear about COVID-19, plus ever-changing guidelines, but officers showed up and took the calls to respond at residences where they could have been exposed in an effort to continue helping the community.
Several employees were given a written note of appreciation for never missing a shift in March through April 2020 such as: Sergeants Sergio Lopez and David Edwards; Dispatchers Tiffany Deal, Tiffany McClenan, and Tommye Pressley; Patrol Officers Erica Fleming, Joe Rosas, Christian Bartley, Jacob Malnar, Harrell Dean, John Mendoza, and Jared Skipworth; and ACO Don “Paul” Daniel.
“With having only two or three guys on a shift, sometimes if you move it’s like a domino. If you move one guy or someone calls out, then it messes up the whole shift for the day and you have to start moving people around and splitting shifts,” said Broussard.
There are only approximately a dozen uniformed patrol officers split into three shifts running calls and not clocking out until all of their reports are completed and turned in for the day – sometimes working 50–60 hours a week to provide service to the community before being able to go home to their families. Chief hopes to be able to have a minimum of 4–5 officers plus a supervisor to alleviate the workload and time demands of current patrol units and to provide the best service to the community.
“Safety and emergency services are very big to most citizens. I believe our city council is real amp to that and they know that and they are also themselves wanting to keep things safe and a lid on top of things as we grow with the population,” explained Broussard.
Officer recruiting and retention still a challenge
Placing community safety as a priority is one reason the department and city officials are currently in the process of a salary study to be more competitive with agencies similar in size and growth with hopes of salary increases being put in place in the upcoming budget cycle that begins in October.
“Before the pandemic, we were adding two officers per year and last year we added one officer. Now that our city limits extend to Montgomery County, I am going to be asking for three or four officer positions. Other budgets need to be filled as well. With all the growth, I hope to get at least two of the positions requested,” said Chief Broussard.
The department is currently challenged with competing with school districts, constable offices and other agencies for personnel, and the reasons are about more than the pay scale, however, salary does play a role in the candidate pool that choose to apply for Cleveland PD.
Many individuals have shied away from law enforcement as a career due to national events that generated hostility toward law enforcement. The younger generation is not getting involved in law enforcement as much partly because of reforming and defunding of police departments and more defiance from people toward officers in general, according to Chief.
“It is not as respectful as when I started back in the 80s. Sometimes it seems not as rewarding. You are always going to have those challenging times where people are going to challenge you as a law enforcement officer, but for the most part it is rewarding to be able to go out and help others. We are no bigger than anyone else. We are humans and we have our own families. We strive every day to be well-trained so we can make it back to our families as well,” he said.
Over the last 35 years, Chief Broussard has worked for Cleveland Police Department, being promoted to chief in September 2012, and he has witnessed many good staff and good people leave for other opportunities. He believes there should be a focus more on retaining officers.
“We are always challenging our council and others to really look at retaining people. Some people are hard to replace when they walk out of the door with 10 or 15 years of experience in their own community. They take a lot of the heartbeat away and it makes it more difficult to replace those people. They are the ones who built a rapport with the community and are trusted to do their job well,” he explained.
A Proactive Policing Approach
Officers who are connected to the community and have taken the time to build relationships of trust are valued members of the department and have a lot of knowledge to share with newer officers beginning their careers.
Broussard encourages his department to take part in community events and to simply be seen on patrol, especially in heavily populated areas where there is a potential for problems to occur and where officers try to keep a close eye on things.
Bluebonnet News was invited to participate in a ride-along with a patrol officer on evening shift to experience first-hand the call volume and dedication of dispatchers and officers in the department on what was considered a slower night.
“Any member of the community over the age of 18 can fill out an application to be able to participate in a ride-along,” explained Chief Broussard.
Within the first hour of the ride-along on a Thursday evening, the officer had responded to multiple calls for service including checking on water in the roadways to see if any vehicles were stuck or if signs needed to be placed to close flooded roads.
He also completed a traffic stop on a vehicle that ran a stop sign in the bad weather, and asked the driver to slow down for safety of everyone while only issuing a warning and not a ticket.
Business lots and residential neighborhoods were patrolled as a deterrent to thefts and unlawful intrusions.
An accident call came in and the officer replied promptly to the scene for assessment of the damage, helped drivers exchange insurance information, and took notes for what would become a formal report due at the end of shift. The ink wasn’t even dry on the paperwork by time he received another call about a verbal disturbance.
Dispatch advised the verbal disturbance included yelling and the caller mentioning being hit before hanging up. The address was pinged for the location and all three units of evening patrol officers on duty arrived on scene in the general area of the call. Two officers walked through the street of elevated water and muddy yards door-to-door to try to find who was calling for help while the third officer checked out the next street over. The rain was still coming down as they walked the block without hesitation to find the caller in need of help.
“My ultimate goal is to find officers who want to treat people fairly. We put on our uniforms every day and strap on our gear and go out on the streets, realizing it could be our last chance to do that or to see our families when we stop that next car. You must be well trained and prepared. There is not a routine traffic stop out there. Every one of them is a little bit different and every family disturbance you go to is a little bit different,” said Chief Broussard. “We look for people who want to help and want to make a difference in their community.”
How to Back the Blue
While there are recent political discussions surrounding law enforcement, reform, and defunding of departments across the state and nation and a call for more accountability and training, there is also a discussion happening on how communities can support their local law enforcement.
“There are little things we can always use if citizens are concerned or businesses want to help,” said Chief Broussard.
For example, individuals can keep an eye on their neighborhood and report suspicious activity. Businesses who invest in security cameras on a block or LPR systems also contribute to the success of the department.
“We cannot do it alone,” explained Chief. “Communicating with our citizens is one of the top priorities that we have – and creating the partnership with our community and being part of the community. I’m the sticker guy passing out stickers to kids and I encourage the officers to do the same while attending community events.”
Simple items such as a case of water, a can of coffee, or even dropping off pizzas go a long way for the department to see people are really thinking about them and concerned about them.
“We have had a lot of different people donate things like that. You would be surprised how it brightens the day of our dispatchers and officers throughout the day. Like I said, they work 24 hours a day with 8-hour shifts and sometimes you are into your seventh or eighth hour and haven’t even eaten a lunch, because you haven’t had time to stop with the way our call volume has risen so much in this community,” said Chief Broussard.
Other practical needs of the department include 64 GB flash drives, AA and AAA batteries, vouchers or donated orders for officer uniforms from Galls, coordinated shirts for dispatchers, updated bullet-proof vests and bigger items typically asked for in the budget that don’t always receive the funding – particularly speed radar units for patrol vehicles, and updated radios and communication systems now that the city limits have extended out even farther from the station.
“Sometimes people think with radars we are going to be giving out more tickets, but it’s not about tickets. Radars help the community be safe and help with traffic enforcement and traffic enforcement helps keep traffic fatalities down,” explained Chief.
Donations can be accepted by the police department through the budget at the city and earmarked for law enforcement needs if individuals or businesses choose to want to help support the men and women who pin on a badge and patrol the community each day and night.
“It’s also nice just to get a wave or friendly hello,” said Chief Broussard.