PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — Six new officers were sworn into the Pflugerville Police Department ranks Friday evening, bringing the total force size closer to the number of positions authorized in the department.
A department spokeswoman said PFPD’s authorized force is 87 sworn officers; Friday’s recruit graduation brings the number of officers to 79.
The department’s new police chief told KXAN filling those spots is just part of a broader effort to make the force more responsive to a changing community.
“I’m 41. I made the decision late,” Officer Michael Sweetland said, riding out in his patrol car for the last half hour of his shift Friday. “I wish I would have made it sooner.”
Just a couple years into his decision to leave a six-figure salary for a life behind the wheel of a police cruiser, he said he doesn’t regret the decision he made.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said of his reasons for joining the department. “The simple two words I could use are, ‘It’s time.'”
Time, he means, for him to give back to the community, to serve his neighbors. Sweetland is the kind of person police Chief Jessica Robledo wants more of.
“I want people who can have a good servant heart,” she said in an interview before heading out to meet the families of the new officers getting their badges Friday evening.
Robledo was made interim police chief at the beginning of the year and full-time chief a month later. She calls herself “blessed” to be in the position she’s in now, and appears to revel in the opportunity to make a difference in the department and in Pflugerville as a whole.
She wants to be able to fill positions with more minorities and more women, she said, to better reflect the diversifying community between Round Rock and Austin. Two of the six who graduated Friday are one or the other.
Asked how she wants to go about recruiting more diverse applicants, she said, “I lead by example. I’m a female; I’m a minority.”
Past her desire to reach out to those communities and find people who are interested in law enforcement, Robledo knows a thing or two about recruiting more generally. She formerly worked for the Austin Police Department, rising through the ranks to assistant chief and heading up recruiting for the department during her tenure.
But the new Pflugerville chief’s “big vision,” as she calls it, doesn’t stop with hiring more people.
“You never know what’s going to pop up,” she said. “It could be property crime, it could be illegal activity as in drugs or something.”
She’d like to create more specialized units based on the city’s needs as it continues to attract new residents. She’s already formed a specialized traffic unit to respond to an increase in problems on the road.
“I need to remember that I can’t change it overnight,” she said.
“The city’s obviously growing,” Officer Sweetland said. He drove through the town, pointing out subdivisions that kept expanding. He said all of the city’s four quadrants are experiencing growth, and so is the call volume he’s seen since he started with the department.
“I wish I would have started this 20 years ago,” he said.
Robledo wants to keep the department growing with the city — the eight unfilled positions are just the start. And she wants to keep it staffed with people like Sweetland who want to serve.
“You always want to prepare for the future,” she said.