Analyst discusses staff shortages at police departments

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Throughout San Marcos, flags flying at half staff -- the grey skies summing up the feelings of many in this tight-knit community, still reeling over the death of Officer Kenneth Copeland. 

"Ken's a hero," said an emotional San Marcos Police Chief Chase Stapp during a Monday evening press conference, just hours after Copeland was killed. 

While executing a warrant, Copeland was shot multiple times in the El Camino Real Subdivision Monday afternoon, dying shortly after. 

Stewart Thomas Mettz, 51, has been charged with capital murder in the case. 

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"(Monday) was his day off. He worked just about every day off to provide for his kids, and he knows that we're shorthanded and we need the help," explained Stapp. 

A San Marcos city spokesman told KVUE that San Marcos PD has 106 officers, and just one vacancy. So how can a department which is nearly 100 percent fully staffed, be shorthanded?

"It's fuzzy math," explained Fred Burton, a former police officer and federal agent who is now the vice president of Intelligence at Stratfor, an Austin-based global security firm. 

He explained the number of positions doesn't necessarily equal the number of positions needed. 

"Those positions are evaluated months before, and typically don't take into account rising populations, crime trends from a forecasting perspective," explained Burton, who also pointed to special events, retirements and resignations as factors that need to be considered. 

The allure of working overtime is common amongst many officers, including Burton himself when he was on the force. 

"You look at this officer that appeared to be extremely dedicated, and devoted to the job, but also wanted to provide for his family," Burton said. "I’ve been there and done that, working extra shifts just because I needed the money. So your heart just really bleeds for this kind of officer that clearly wanted to do his job and do it well."

However, Burton added the danger of overburdening officers. 

"It is a very fine balance because there's only so many hours in a day, and there is a need for rest," Burton explained. 

The presence of overtime in police departments is so common that it's even listed as a frequently asked question on the city of Austin's website. 

So how does San Marcos stack up? With an estimated population of 61,980 people (as of July 2016), San Marcos has about 17 officers per 10,000 people -- which is consistent with the national average of a city of that size. 

Buda has an estimated population of 16,428 and 19 commissioned officers with no vacancies. That breaks down to about 11.6 officers per 10,000 people. 

Round Rock has an estimated population of 110,300 people and 175 sworn officers. That breaks down to about 15.9 officers per 10,000 people. 

Pflugerville has an estimated population of 53,487 people (as of July 2016) and 85 budgeted sworn positions. That breaks down to about 15.8 officers per 10,000 people. The Pflugerville City Council approved two more sworn positions, which will be funded beginning in January.