New Taylor police officers part of ‘longer-term plan’

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR — Barely a month into his term, Mayor Rick Sollars said the addition of four new police officers to the city’s ranks represent more than just a few extra cops on the street.

“We’re trending in the right direction,” Sollars said. “We have a longer-term plan.”

That plan began with last week’s swearing-in of four officers — Steven Kish, Adam Leffew, Andy Paredes and Jennifer Zucarro — which brought the department’s roster up to 65 officers, not counting command officers. (A fifth officer, Damir Jakupovic, had already accepted a position with another department.)

Those hires, Sollars said, are the beginning of an expected growth that could total 85 police officers, shy of the departments 100-plus peak but much closer to national average for population.

“Back in the day we operated at numbers over 100,” Sollars said. “We’re never going to get back there, but they want 85 total.”

Sollars said requests for applications are available for what could be 15 new hires by spring. (Prospective law enforcement officers are invited to check the city’s website for application information.)

Sollars credited the turnaround to a number of factors, including former Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand’s negotiations with public safety unions and the administration as helmed by Police Chief Mary Sclabassi. A foundation was set to support additional officers, although Sollars said the department struggles to be competitive in its field.

“When the new contracts were negotiated they represented great savings, but we fall on the low end of pay,” Sollars said. “We’ll have a harder time filling the jobs, but I don’t think a lot of departments are hiring.”

On the plus side, Sollars said the new hires represent a new attitude in both the department and city.

“These guys are young, energized and want to do their job,” Sollars said. “It creates a different energy in the department. We’re doing some good things.”

An optimistic police force goes hand in hand with what Sollars said is a new attitude at city hall, reflective of the near clean-sweep of elected officials in the wake of November’s general election. Hundreds of residents gathered to applaud the swearing-in of Sollars and city council members, and he hopes to continue that momentum.

“Just the perception of the public feels better,” Sollars said. “There’s a little bit of renewed energy, almost a change of culture.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)

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