Rare spotlight on LPD Chief

A look back at 2020
Updated: Nov. 12, 2020 at 10:32 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - November 15th, 2019. One year ago this week, Floyd Mitchell was sworn in as Lubbock’s 23rd police chief.

It was a major change in leadership for the city that would be followed by a year like we’ve never seen before.

The first night, we heard from police chief Floyd Mitchell about his unique first year, specifically the high-homicide rate which placed Lubbock on a national stage - and his focus on the decentralization of the department. Part one below.

In part two of our series, we heard chief Mitchell speak to his experience as a Black man and a more than 30 year member of law enforcement, all while leading a police department in a nation calling for police reform. Part two below.

In the final segment, we talk to chief Mitchell about the morale of his personnel, the extensive recruiting efforts and the retention of those officers who already wear the badge.

“I think it’s important for everyone to understand that you know that there is a lot of disruption when you replace a chief,” Mitchell said.

And when we looked at the numbers provided by the city, there was, in fact, an increase in retirements and resignations following this change in leadership.

Resignations and retirements from the Lubbock Police Department:

2017-18: 12

2018-19: 16

2019-20: 23

So, we wanted to know more.

KD: “How would you describe the morale here at the Lubbock police department, right now?”

"You know, I think it’s difficult to gauge what the morale truly is when there’s so much upheaval… everyone seems to be doing ok, I haven’t had any calls for you know, “oh my god”, you know, morale is bad or this that or the other," Mitchell replied.

And while he says low morale is not a concern of his, there is one specific area he is homed in on: “I will tell you recruiting and getting the positions we are authorized and that are funded right now and that are filled is my number one goal.”

Evidenced by the concerted effort of social media pushes, radio ads, events and community partnerships.

Mitchell said, “I also think we took our eye off the ball and we did not focus on recruiting.”

What we found when we looked back into our archives was a news conference in march of 2017 held by LPD, announcing a fully-staffed department with the beginning of its newest academy class at the time, prompting the city to add 10 more positions to the roster.

“There’s no way for us to tell how we could affect our response time because we are 50 plus officers down at any given time and we’ve been that for some time now,” Mitchell said. "That’s one of the things that I truly believe has truly affected the performance of the police department over the last four or five years. "

Currently, the Lubbock police department is authorized for 465 officers, with 17 vacancies.

KD: “What is being done to encourage retention of officers whom the city has already invested time, money, resources, training in?”

Mitchell replied, “Trying to make a workplace that is enjoyable to come to. Trying to provide officers with the opportunity to seek out training that makes them better, that gives them certifications to do their jobs, and really work on a health and wellness piece for our police officers.”

Currently, a monetary incentive for licensed officers with three years' experience is being offered, but when asked about a pay raise this year, Mitchell says the news is the same for all city employees: “No, we’re not getting raises this year. No one in this city, that works for the city of Lubbock is getting raises this year because of where we are with finances. A lot of people have lost their jobs. None of us have lost our jobs.”

KD: “You just said right now the city is strapped for funds due to COVID-19. Do you think, I mean, the average officer who sees that, do you think they’re wondering, well how are they able to come up with the funding for that?”

“Well, I think we’ve done a good job explaining that to them. It’s not like we came up and asked for a whole bunch of extra money,” Mitchell answered. “We’re saying the money that we would have spent to put the person through 10 months of training, we would spend the same amount by putting them through six months of training and paying them this bonus and we’re getting a three year certified police officer.”

Another topic of interest: The status of the investigation surrounding the officer placed on leave for comments made on social media this summer, after LPD held a news conference to announce his suspension.

When asked if there was an update to the investigation, Chief Mitchell said, “It has gone through the investigative process. I’ve administered that discipline, meaning I have given that discipline to the officer. The officer has taken that discipline. However, through the due process of civil service that officer can appeal that to a third-party hearing examiner. That’s what this officer chose to do.”

“Do you think it would have been beneficial to just update the public and say, 'this is at least where we are in the process?”

“It would have been me telling you that hey we’ve done something, but I can’t tell you what we’ve done and that’s the plainest way that I can put it. I would wait and give you the final outcome as opposed to giving you half the information,” Mitchell said.

“Is that officer back on duty?”

“Yes,” Mitchell responded.

KD: “Do you get strong opinions in this particular community about defunding the police?”

“I get very strong opinions in this community about how professional this law enforcement agency is, how they’re treated by this police department and how there is no appetite to defund the police, here,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell believes instead of focusing on defunding, the question should be approached differently: “It’s more about funding other social nets that are out there that assist us in addressing some of the social issues that we see day in and day out, especially when it comes to mental health and homelessness.”

Two areas of focus for both LPD’s crisis intervention team, launched in 2018, and the homeless outreach team, created in 2016. Despite a tumultuous year for law enforcement - with the profession as a whole under a microscope - Mitchell didn’t hesitate to own the challenges brought on by the bad behavior of a few.

“When we see those videos of poor policing, it doesn’t matter if you’re Black, white, Hispanic, male or female. When you see horrible policing, it affects everyone who wears a uniform. No one hates a bad police officer more than a good police officer and when you have someone do something that affects the entire profession, it’s harmful,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell brings with him a unique perspective to the community that can’t be ignored as the first Black chief at the helm of the LPD, a perspective he recognizes. “I think my unique perspective comes from 30 years in a number of different units at this point, agencies. I think it’s the whole thing of having an understanding of what it’s like to be a minority, but also in just growing up in what I would truly say are professional police departments. In police departments that truly care about the relationships with their communities.”

And a perspective he says he tries to utilize - by doing a little coaching of his own.

KD: “Recently, you talked to tech athletics. How have those conversations gone and why was it important that it was you speaking to them?”

Mitchell responded, “For me, it’s been extremely important from the standpoint that these young men and women are truly engaged. Most of our conversations have been over procedures. What to expect. It hasn’t been over racial injustice, or this that and the other. They’re very inquisitive and they want to know, ok, how do I respond, or why did this particular thing happen?”

In his first year as chief, Lubbock experienced the death of two first responders, a world-wide pandemic and a nation-wide call for police reform, all amidst a polarizing presidential campaign.

“This year, I would say has been like no other year that I have experienced in my 30 years of policing, so a lot has happened in a very short 12 months,” said Mitchell.

2020 has been for him, like all of us – a year of trials he didn’t see coming.

The first topic was the alarming increase in violent crime, specifically, Lubbock homicide, “Looking at past years, you know, this year, compared to the previous three years, we’re probably sitting around 68% above where we normally sit.”

A disturbing number for a new chief, especially when compared to years not under his watch. In fact, homicide cases in his first year were up more than 50% over 2018 and ’19.

“Well, being an old homicide commander in my previous role, I always like to take a look at what types of homicides are occurring,” added Mitchell.

According to a New York Times article, Lubbock now shares the national spotlight with cities like Los Angeles, Kansas City and Indianapolis, all setting records "for the number of killings in a single year.

So, the KCBD Investigates team asked, “Do people at home need to be concerned?”

“I would say your chances are very low," Mitchell said. "Is Miss Johnson coming from her house, going to the car, getting shot and killed in her driveway? No.”

And the numbers suggest that’s true.

Even though 23 of the 29 homicide suspects in Lubbock are charged with murder, a breakdown of the numbers gives us more perspective.

  • Eight were disputes, either between acquaintances or strangers
  • Seven were related to domestic violence, meaning the victim had a relationship with the suspect; either by blood, marriage, common-law relationship, or a domestic setting
  • One was self-defense
  • Two were officer involved shootings
  • Two were arson
  • Eight were related to drug deals
  • One remains under investigation

“Overwhelmingly, there is some type of connection; meaning, that person knew the other person,” Mitchell says.

Lubbock’s latest homicide, however, appears to be the exception to that, when early Saturday morning, a 34-year old man shot and killed a total stranger in the parking lot of a central Lubbock grocery store.

Still, Mitchell says random acts of violence like this are rare in Lubbock.

“It’s not to say that it can’t happen, but when you analyze what’s going on; one, it’s those relationships, and two, it’s a lifestyle that they’re leading.”

So, while dealing with record crime and reflecting on an unprecedented year, chief Mitchell says his focus remains on the future.

“There is a lot of fundamental change that is baked into the Lubbock police department in the next three to five years.”

The fundamental change includes neighborhood police stations, a new crime lab, and new headquarters, all of which is the framework for a new Lubbock model in policing, one Mitchell says he intends to stick around for.

“I have no plans beyond the Lubbock police department," Mitchell said. "My wife and I, we have enjoyed Lubbock over these 12 months, even through a shut-down. It’s been difficult to get out and explore some of the things, but we’re almost complete with building us a home, so, we’re going to make this our home for a while.”

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