Bertram approves cop car rules; amended radius protocol will aid officer recruitment

By Nathan Hendrix

Staff Writer

Burnet Bulletin

Bertram Police Chief L. Dewayne Kyle reported the Bertram Police Department is experiencing difficulty hiring experienced officers at the monthly city council meeting Tuesday, June 18.

The Bertram City Council approved an amendment of an ordinance to allow officers to take home patrol vehicles if they live in a 25-mile radius of the city limits to assist in the hiring process.

The department has two vacant officer slots and no current applications to fill those positions. Kyle interviewed an experienced officer recently, but the applicant declined the job due to lack of appropriate and affordable housing in the area.

“He was looking for a place to rent, but the cost of living here is too expensive,” Kyle said. “He's the sole provider and has four kids. He was trying to live in the 25-mile radius.”

The department has taken steps to provide enticing benefits to new hires, including take-home vehicles, but the wording of the ordinance that governs the policy needed clarification to proceed.

The current policy allows for officers that live 25 miles from the city limits to take their patrol vehicles home but is not clear on whether that means a 25-mile radius or 25 roadway miles.

“It saves [officers] money on gas, and it gives me a unit on-call,” Kyle said. “I see it as a win-win.”

He said other departments, including the department he worked for in Austin, use a policy of 25 miles “as the crow flies.” City secretary Georgina Hernandez said the radius policy would allow vehicles to travel much further than expected.

“Twenty-five miles could put them in Spicewood,” she said. “Spicewood, as the crow flies, is probably 25 miles, but it takes about an hour to get there.”

Kyle said the take-home vehicle policy is generally a more appealing option than an increase in base pay for new officers; both options cost the city money, but Hernandez said the take-home vehicle would be more expensive to the city.

“[The cons] are the fuel … the maintenance on the vehicle,” she said. “That vehicle does not fly like a crow; it has to be on the road.”

Bertram Mayor Adam Warden expressed his support for the radius policy but said he also understands why the council would oppose it.

“We're down two people and trying to get better officers; we've always had a problem with officers,” he said. “I say move it to 30 [miles].

“I'm trying to think of everything. We would be putting our people on the road farther away,” he continued. “It would increase chances of an accident, which would increase our insurance.”

During the summer hours, the department has the staffing to provide seven-day coverage, Kyle said, but filling the empty positions is still a priority.

“We're trying,” Kyle said. “We have a lot of competition; everyone is hiring, and everyone pays a lot more than we do.”

Kyle said he has applicants for reserve officers that are rookies, but he doesn't have the time to train them. The department is seeking experienced officers who could make a difference immediately without time lost on training.

The department has developed an “organized” and consistent method of screening applicants, but the process can take up to two weeks.

Bertram officers have begun conducting visits to colleges and police academies to gauge interest, but any prospective officers aren't available until the future.

Kyle said he has been asked about hiring an animal control officer to deal with the large volume of calls the department receives about dogs, cats and other animals.

“If need be, we can do away with an officer position and do something like that at a cheaper rate,” Kyle said. “It would take a load off our plate as far as animal calls and code enforcement, but I'd rather have an officer if I could get that.”

He thanked council member Jane Scheidler and her group for their work in response to the stray cat calls.

In other news:

• The council approved allowing representatives of the Oatmeal Festival to have a key to the old EMS building at the corner of South East Street and East Vaughan Street. At the previous meeting, the council agreed to draft an agreement with the festival that allows the use of the municipal building for storage of Oatmeal Festival materials.

• The city needs to correct deficiencies at the wastewater plant after a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality audit.

Utility Director Adam Lambert said sludge and vegetation in the ponds concerns inspectors. He said getting a new plant will be important “sooner rather than later.”

• July's city council meeting was moved to July 16 to accommodate work-related obligations for city officials.

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