Finding quality, certified police officers has proved difficult for departments across the country in recent years, Durango Police Department being no exception. But a police service technician program first initiated in 2019 is turning out positive results, said Jacob Dunlap, DPD police commander.
At a Durango City Council meeting earlier this month, Dunlop said the program has helped the department redistribute its workload to employees who don’t require certification or a badge, which frees up patrol officers to focus their attention on in-progress events and other primary police duties in the field, ultimately providing services to more residents.
Police service technicians primarily handle calls such as fraud, identity theft, regular thefts, criminal mischief, funeral escorts, graffiti reports and other common calls for service, he said. They also collect evidence, conduct follow-up interviews and perform other public safety duties that certified officers aren’t required for.
Dunlop said since the program was started four years ago, police service technicians have handled 6,937 calls for service and assisted uniformed officers with 1,068 calls for service.
He said at the start of the program, DPD brought two police service technicians onto the team. Since then, the department has hired two more technicians who aid officers six days a week.
Initially, DPD wasn’t getting the rate of closure on cold service calls, which usually involved suspects that officers couldn’t properly follow up with, he said.
“So we designated a detective position specifically to follow up on these patrol calls into PST (police service technician) calls, and immediately saw an increase of 56% in successfully closing out these crimes,” he said.
He said the police department is looking at expanding its police service technician program. Durango code enforcement was reorganized back into DPD several years ago, and the department is working with Durango Parks and Recreation in possibly designating specific resources to code compliance in parks and open spaces. City Council is scheduled to approve the creation of a new city parks ranger position and adjust city code to allow that position to enforce it at its regular meeting Tuesday.
José Madrigal, city manager, said staffing shortages are happening all over public safety, and police service technicians have helped the police department pivot and relieve officers of some of the workload.
Being credited by city officials for an increased focus on providing a higher level of customer service to residents, Madrigal said the police service technicians program does allows DPD to do just that.
“It’s a great program, it’s done really well,” he said. “We’ve seen the ability to have people starting out as PSTs that enjoy being there, and wanting to be a police officer and transitioning into a police officer role does help (on) the recruiting side.”
He said the program also helps the police department retain employees who start as technicians before moving into uniformed police work before deciding it’s not for them. If patrol isn’t working out for an employee who came from a service technician role, they can go back to that role or another more fitting job within the department.
“I think you’ll see us utilizing these positions more,” he said. “But it’s always good to have an ability as our police department has done to be agile and respond to the needs of the community.”