Richardson fire, police departments adjust to population, corporate density

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On the wall in Chief Jimmy Spivey’s office hangs a black-and-white photograph from the late 1950s of Richardson’s inaugural police force in front of the original City Hall—a simple white-frame building that also housed the city’s police and fire departments.

Today Richardson looks much different. The population has steadily increased; the corporate sector has grown; and nearly every corner of the city has been developed.

“I never dreamed we would be 100,000 [people],” said Spivey, who has been with the department since 1995 and chief since 2009.

Both police and fire officials have made adjustments to cope with a city that is denser and more populous than ever before. New technology that expedites daily tasks as well as the hiring and retention of top-tier personnel through competitive salary and benefit packages has helped both departments maximize efficiency.

But one of the biggest changes is yet to come. A $62 million public safety campus paid for by a 2015 voter-approved bond program is under construction just north of the current police and fire headquarters at Greenville Avenue and Main Street.

The three-building campus includes a 31,000-square-foot fire station with an administrative wing, a 77,000-square-foot police station and a 7,000-square-foot police support building.

Completion of the project is not expected until 2020; however, fire and police personnel will begin to move into the building in July and September, respectively.

POLICING A CHANGING ENVIRONMENT

The Richardson Police Department had only three officers when it was established in 1955. Today, 169 police officers serve a community of just over 116,000 people.

But that is just the bedtime population. As one of the region’s premier employment hubs, Richardson sees a dramatic increase in population during daytime hours. The city has no concrete way to quantify this uptick, but City-Data.com—a website that creates city profiles based on government and private sources—estimates 48,161 people commute in daily for work.

As a result, keeping traffic moving is probably an officer’s most crucial charge each day, Spivey said.

“When there is a crash, especially on Central [Expressway], our goal is to take care of anyone who is hurt but then get that [road cleared]and get traffic moving again,” he said. 

Crime rates in Richardson are low compared to cities of similar size, Spivey said. In 2018, the department reported a property crime rate of 22.92 per 1,000 people and a violent crime rate of 1.22 per 1,000 people.

Still, more density means Richardson is a target for property crimes, such as car burglaries, the city’s most prolific crime, Spivey estimates.

“When you have big numbers of people living in a small area, there is going to be victimization,” he said.

When determining whether staffing is sufficient, Spivey said he looks at how much time an officer spends on discretionary tasks, such as interacting with the community or helping residents with crime prevention.

Currently, the department is 3 minutes  short of its gold standard: 15 minutes per hour of discretionary time.

Adding more officers is one solution, but Spivey said improving efficiencies is just as important and much cheaper.

“The most expensive thing we can buy is a police officer,” Spivey said. “The more efficient we become, the less costly it is to the taxpayer because we don’t have to have as many officers.”

That’s where technology comes in. High-tech devices and systems help the department not only recruit officers but also accelerate everyday tasks, such as crash reporting, citation writing and data collection, Spivey said.

CORPORATE PARTNERSHIPS

The opening of CityLine in 2014—which brought with it 7,400 employees from State Farm alone—was a pivotal moment  for the public safety sector.

“We have gone in a really short time from policing wilderness to all of the sudden this major complex of business, corporate, wonderful restaurants, and people, people, people,” Spivey said.

Both Spivey and Richardson Fire Department Chief Curtis Poovey said they began cultivating relationships early on with corporate tenants, such as State Farm.

“People bring cars, and cars bring accidents, injuries and illnesses,” Poovey said. “When that happens, our [incident]numbers go up.”

The desire to be a community partner was also important to State Farm, said David Gwarda, associate vice president of administrative services.

Last August, State Farm awarded the police department with a $100,000 grant for technology that expedites writing citations and crash reports.

And in 2017, the company provided the fire department with a $4,000 grant for residential smoke alarms.

MEETING THE DEMAND

The strain on the fire department is most evident when looking at the number of incidents reported by emergency medical services since 2009.

Between 2009-18, Richardson’s population grew by 12%, and many of the city’s biggest corporate employers, including Real Page, State Farm, Geico and Raytheon, opened their doors. Over that same period, the number of incidents responded to by emergency medical services increased by 56%, according to the fire department.

To meet demand, the fire department hired more staff as well as increased the size and number of fire trucks and ambulances, Poovey said.

The department also placed a bigger focus on training its firefighters to deal with density, particularly when it comes to multifamily and high-rise buildings.

When CityLine opened, Poovey said the department began tracking how often ambulances and fire trucks were deployed from Station No. 5, located just east of the development.

Before long, fire department vehicles were spending more time en route to emergencies, so another ambulance was added to the fleet, Poovey said.

But the challenges related to density are not relegated to CityLine. Over the past decade, the number of students attending the University of Texas at Dallas has doubled to about 28,000.

Deftly navigating UTD’s campus has proven difficult for emergency vehicles, Poovey said. Fortunately, a student-led team of emergency medical technicians is helping cut down on response times by addressing on-campus incidents before an ambulance arrives.

WHAT’S TO COME

The public safety campus will alleviate space constraints present at current fire and police headquarters, Poovey and Spivey said.

For the police department, the new building will also allow similar units to office in close proximity, which is essential for productivity, Spivey said.

Space for fire administration and staff will double as a result of the move, Poovey said. The facility will also include a bigger garage for the department’s fleet vehicles.

“It won’t make [the firefighters]any faster out the door or change what they do in the field, but it will make their time in the station much better and increase morale,” he said.

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COMMENT
  1. Richardson spends a totally unnecessary portion of its budget on police and firefighting. Almost double Plano which has a similarly low crime rate. Police and fire are the largest budget item by far in Richardson’s budget dwarfing everything else. When your taxes continue to go up year after year with no relief, ever, this is why.

  2. Gregory A Wilkerson

    As a Richardson resident, I support the 53.3 million dollars Richardson spends on Public Safety. It is in line with most other municipalities in overall percentage of the total operating budget. Public Safety is an expensive endeavor. I’m not sure where John Jackson gets his numbers but Plano spends 150 million dollars of their 339.81 million dollar operating budget on public safety, or 44%. Our taxes are rising because of property values increasing and additional development that requires additional services, not unnecessary spending by police or fire. I am all for a decreased tax rate, but not at the expense of public safety.

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Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.
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