TEXARKANA, Ark. -- If there is one thing Michael Kramm knows, it is the value of training.
It is an appreciation he cultivated in the military and fortified at the FBI National Academy. It is a lesson he taught others as chief of police in League City, Texas, about 25 miles southeast of Houston.
The self-described "training junkie" said he has found kindred spirits at Texarkana Arkansas Police Department, where the dedication to keeping officers adept was strong enough to pull him out of retirement.
Kramm assumed command at TAPD on Oct. 24, besting nearly 40 other applicants nationwide to succeed Kristi Bennett as chief. Bennett, the city's first female police leader, resigned in June to take a similar position in her hometown of Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.
"This department had great leadership for many years. There was a chief as I started doing my research who had been here and devoted his entire life to building up a very dynamic and progressive Police Department," Kramm said of Robert Harrison, Bennett's predecessor who served as chief from 1990 to 2020.
"I've never met the man, but I have a lot of appreciation for what he brought this department through and what he built it into."
It is a tradition the new chief aims to continue.
A BIT ABOUT THE CHIEF
Kramm's road to Bi-State Justice Center has been long, built on family, service and even construction.
A native of Pasadena, Texas, Kramm moved about 20 miles southeast to League City with his family in 1975.
"There were about 10,000 people there when I moved there," Kramm said. "I grew up there, went to school there, graduated high school."
After a "little bit" of time in college, Kramm joined the Navy in 1988. He spent four years in the armed forces, including serving through Desert Storm -- the 1990 U.S.-led air offensive on Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait.
"When I got out of the Navy, I found my way back to League City. I didn't know what I wanted to do, and I first started a little business doing some remodeling with a buddy of mine, because I like working with my hands," he said.
However, Kramm had not quite closed the book on public service. Little did he know, he would soon trade his hammer for a badge.
"My brother-in-law was a local police officer, and he asked me if I thought I would enjoy it," Kramm said. "I'd never really considered it, but he told me a little bit about what he did."
What appealed to Kramm about law enforcement was the opportunity to make a difference in the community. His interest piqued, he began taking steps toward joining League City Police Department, culminating in passing the civil service exam.
But there was a hiccup.
"They almost didn't hire me, because my brother-in-law worked there, and the chief said, 'We can't hire him.' My brother-in-law said, 'He's replacing a guy whose wife just left here, so how does that work?'" Kramm recalled.
The brother-in-law's reasoning apparently struck a chord with the chief.
"He goes, 'Well, maybe I can reconsider.' The chief called me, and he said, 'You can have the job.'"
However, Kramm had not put all of his career eggs in one basket.
"I had gotten a job the same day working as an operator at a petrochemical plant, so I took a $4-an-hour pay cut."
That was in 1993, and Kramm said what he sacrificed in income was more than made up by the sense of fulfillment he came to realize after completing his training and becoming a certified peace officer.
"I couldn't believe they were paying me to do that. I felt like I was doing something that mattered," he said. "I really enjoyed getting a chance to help people out when they needed it -- and I enjoyed the high stress and the adrenaline that came with parts of it, too."
Over the next 19 years, Kramm rose through the ranks, being promoted to sergeant, lieutenant and then an interim captain. He supervised various department activities, especially training other officers in traffic, the field and special operations.
"I got to be an instructor for several different things -- tactical things and legal things and evasive-driving techniques -- and so I really had a great expanse of opportunities from the Police Department," he said.
In 2012, Kramm was selected as League City's chief of police, a position he held until another opportunity came knocking in 2018.
"I was asked by the city manager to come over to City Hall as one of the assistant city managers," he said. "I went over to City Hall and had a little bit bigger purview of responsibility over most of the emergency services stuff and then some of the other departments at the city."
After nearly 30 years of service in League City -- including helping the community rebound after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 -- Kramm felt a change was in order. And that seemed fitting, since League City itself had changed from the small town Kramm knew as a boy into a bustling city of well over 110,000.
"In January (2022), I decided that I had done enough for League City, and they had done more than enough for me," Kramm said. "I had a great career there, and I had run my course there, I think, and so I retired."
The extra time at home with wife Melinda and sons Coleman and Greyson was wonderful, but the honeymoon lasted only a few months.
"It's like, 'Oh, I can't do this. I'll drive myself and my family crazy, or I'll spend all my money,'" Kramm said.
About that time, opportunity knocked again -- and it had a Texarkana connection by the name of Marty Adcock, an Arkansas High School alumnus.
"Marty was a sergeant with me when I was chief. He knows me pretty well," Kramm said.
Adcock is now a senior regional manager at the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Training Center, or ALLERT, at Texas State University. ALLERT offers active shooter response training throughout the United States.
"When he found out that the previous chief, Kristi, was leaving, he called me and said, 'Mike, if you're interested -- I know you still got the energy for it -- I think you'd really like Texarkana. It's good people, and it's a great department,'" Kramm said.
The more Adcock spoke about TAPD -- "He was in tune and plugged in here" -- the more Kramm saw it as the place to get back in uniform.
"What really intrigued me is, I'm an old training junkie. I love training and having officers really well trained, and he knew that," Kramm said of Adcock, his former police trainer. "He told me about the schedule that they elected here a few years ago to go to that accommodates six hours of set-aside training every month. They're the most trained police department in the state of Arkansas."
Intrigued by what he was being told, Kramm went online "to find all the skeletons" on TAPD but discovered nothing, which he said was a credit to the department's previous leaders. He then decided to visit the city to determine if living here would be feasible.
"I would have to leave my family there (League City) for a little while, because I've still got a son in high school, so I knew I'd have to keep two households," Kramm said. "I couldn't afford to keep two households down there. It's kind of expensive, but it's more moderate up here. I can afford to come up here and live in a second place and do something I love to do."
Texarkana seemed to be ticking the boxes for Kramm.
A department focused on training? Check. Reasonable housing costs? Check. But there was still one box left to mark, and it was the biggest of them all.
"My wife knew I was unhappy being retired, and I value my marriage more than breathing," Kramm said. "I thought, 'Well, if I don't want to make her unhappy, I probably need to find something for my time.'"
But there was a condition.
"When I started looking, my wife said, 'If you're gonna move away from us, you have to move someplace that doesn't have hurricanes.'"
A hurricane-free, wife-approved city? Big check.
BACK IN BLUE
Boxes ticked, Kramm bit the bullet and submitted his application over the summer. On Oct. 3, City Manager Jay Ellington announced his hiring during a regular Board of Directors meeting.
"Chief Kramm's broad experience and demonstrated abilities will be an asset," Ellington said, as reported in an earlier Gazette article.
Kramm said what he has observed since taking the reins confirms everything he learned as he researched Texarkana.
"There's a sense of ownership and community here that I picked up on the first time I drove down the streets," he said.
"I think it's a blessing to be selected for this position."
The department has been a large part of the blessing. Kramm is grateful for the warm welcome he has received and for the support of his command staff.
"The amount of dedication they show for their jobs and to the city is just more than what I'm accustomed to."
Kramm is returning the favor by taking a thoughtful approach to oversight. Since assuming command, he is striving to meet with each employee of the department, both the sworn peace officers and the general staff, to ask three questions.
"What's your favorite thing about the department that the new chief should keep? What's the one thing the new chief should stop? What's one thing we should start?" he said.
A consensus is forming on what the department needs to keep.
"An overwhelming vein of thought for keeping is the shift schedules. We're working 11-hour shifts on patrol, which is over half the department," said Kramm, who holds a bachelor's in business administration from LeTourneau University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
The shift is two days on one week and then five days on the next week, the chief said. The result is five consecutive days off in the month.
"They love the shift," Kramm said. "And the chief is not stupid enough to change the shift."
TRAINING AND STAFFING
The shift schedule affords a block of time monthly for what Kramm considers paramount: training. He said TAPD has been able to keep training regular, thanks to former Chief Harrison's ensuring the department's budget always included money for officer education.
Given the current state of the world, having well-trained officers is more important than ever, Kramm said.
"Law enforcement solves so many different problems for people that we can't train for everything a police officer is going to encounter in a single shift, but we try to incorporate as much as we can," the chief said of training. "We try to repeat it as often as we need to, to make sure if anything's changed, we're getting refreshed training."
Sgt. Rick Cockrell -- "the Energizer bunny with too much caffeine" -- gets the credit for keeping TAPD's training on track. Besides instruction in best policing practices, officers also engage in days-long field exercises, such as in active-shooter scenarios.
"We use the Union school (on Line Ferry Road) sometimes to host those trainings," the chief said. The drills can include up to 30 officers.
The money for training is still included in TAPD's yearly budget. Kramm, who is calculating the department's 2023 financial needs, intends to present the budget to the Board of Directors in the coming weeks.
One thing the new chief would like to change is the department's staffing shortage, something he said is an issue for departments across the country.
"We're not an anomaly. We compete with the guys on the other side of the building," Kramm said about Texarkana Texas Police Department. "We compete with Nash. We compete with other agencies in the area. We compete with the Dallas metroplex.
"We don't have the unlimited budget to pay everybody $100,000 and say, 'Just don't leave.'"
The entry salary for a certified peace officer at TTPD is about $45,000, according to a job posting on the department's website. Kramm said TAPD's entry-level salary is in the mid-40s.
The Arkansas side operates on a parity pay policy, by which the city uses sales tax revenue to keep fire and police departments salaries comparable to their Texas-side counterparts.
The nature of police work can also handcuff efforts to fill the ranks, Kramm said.
"Not everybody can see the things that police officers are exposed to and be OK to go home and shut it off, wash it off in the shower, so to speak. So it's not only a struggle to attract people to the job, it's a struggle once you get the people hired to make sure you've hired the people who are equipped to sustain themselves in the profession, because it is a taxing vocation."
Given his department's financial realities and the demands of the job, Kramm said he will focus on creating an atmosphere that nurtures the individual.
"There's a great deal we can do as an organization to make sure that we're taking care of our people, and that they know that they matter to us and that we're listening to them."
Kramm said ideally, he would like to increase the ranks from the current 72 officers to 76 to "sustain the services that we find as the minimum we need to do to really serve our public right."
At the moment, TAPD is preparing to hire three to four people, who will go into the three-month course at ALETA, or the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in Camden. The department also has two people who are about to graduate from the academy who will need several months of additional field training before they can work independently, but they could not come at a better time.
"I think that will still leave us with three or four openings, and then we have some planned retirements coming up this year, too, just the regular attrition of a department this size people," Kramm said. "And so we have to start that process all over again. It's a grinder."
However, Texarkana's uniqueness as a twin city makes the grind bearable, Kramm said.
"Arkansas and Texas sides, we have mutual aid agreements that go like 10 blocks in each other's territory to back them up. But truthfully, if you read the state statutes, the states recognize each other's officers from Texarkana as peace officers in those states," he said.
The cities also have joint dispatch and records systems, which keep officers abreast of activity on both sides of the state line. Kramm described the relationship as symbiotic, since the officers know each other and "work really well together."
"It's also a money saver," he said about the combined law enforcement work at Bi-State.
The joint activity can be a boon during the holidays, when thieves up their game, Kramm said.
"When you give them the opportunity on a busy street during the holidays, they can hit 10 or 12 cars in 10 or 12 minutes," Kramm said. "Everybody wakes up the next morning to, 'What the heck just happened?'"
The chief admonishes residents to keep their wits about them, including locking their cars and concealing valuables.
"People like to buy their Christmas presents and then they leave them in places where other people would like to take," he said. "Don't make yourself an easy victim."
Outside of property crimes, Kramm said the city is not seeing an uptick in violent crime, though officers are investigating recent ATM burglaries.
"It's not new because it's been here before. It just took a day off and they came back, and we're working on those diligently," he said.
Kramm said the misdeeds of a few do not outweigh the good work of the community as a whole. He cites what he considers a passion for revitalization and a determination to increase foot traffic downtown.
"If you look around, you see ladders and scaffolding inside some of these old buildings, and that's a great sign," he said.
The first weekend in November, about two weeks after Kramm took over at Bi-State, wife Melinda visited Texarkana. The chief gave her a tour of the area -- from a meal at Pop's Place on U.S. Highway 67 to shopping at the Candy Cane Corral at Four States Fairgrounds.
"My wife is a sucker for craft shows; I carry the bags," he said.
The day concluded with dinner downtown at the 1923 Banana Club, which Kramm called "one of the most amazing places I've ever been." He said by the end of the day, his wife had fallen in love with Texarkana and "was so excited" to return for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Kramm's pride when speaking about his family is hard to miss, especially when it comes to his and Melinda's sons.
Older son Coleman, a Texas A&M University engineering student, is completing an internship in League City. Kramm describes him as tenacious and focused.
"He's going to beat the problem down till it submits," said Kramm, calling Coleman a leader on the basketball court in high school.
"He could fight for a rebound like nobody."
Younger son Greyson is the musical prodigy. Not only is he a multi-instrumentalist, he also is a decorated high school actor with a three-octave range.
"You would never know it because you would think he was almost mute when you meet him," Kramm said.
Greyson also publishes music under the label NonProdigy, which can be found on various streaming services, including Amazon Music and Spotify.
"He released his first self-written, self-produced album about two weeks into the summer after eighth grade," Kramm said. "He ultimately wants to write musical scores for films. He's written scores for a few plays already through high school and for some short films for college students who were music and theater students and film majors."
The younger Kramms clearly take after their mother, a longtime educator in League City, the chief said.
"I don't know what they got from me. Maybe a little bit of height. Hopefully, they don't get their head of hair from me as they get older.
"For the record, I'm bald."
BAD ACTORS AT PLAY
Chief Michael Kramm of Texarkana Arkansas Police Department said filling the ranks is challenging for various reasons. Not to be overlooked is the power of perception.
“If you went by percentages, the men and women in law enforcement make a lot fewer legal mistakes than most people in life, and they’re dedicated to what they do. They do it for the right reasons. The ones that truly mess it up and do the wrong things, they mess it up for all of us. And not only for the ones that are working, they mess it up for the ones who were thinking about coming to the job. So that makes it harder on everybody in law enforcement, which then makes society suffer because there aren’t as many of us to go around to help people out with their problems.”