How Many Police Officers Do We Need?
It’s clear that there is a shortage of police officers across the country. Many departments are struggling with staffing and seeing all kinds of negative impacts – massive overtimes costs, an inability to respond to lower-level crimes, frustrated and burnt out officers leaving the profession. But just how many officers are needed? New research from the U.S. Department of Justice is trying find better ways for cities to think about staffing levels.
Staffing levels can vary dramatically. Washington, D.C. has bout 57 officers per 10,000 residents. San Jose, CA has only 9 officers per 10,000. In general, larger cities have more officers. While there is no standard for staffing levels, where on that continuum should police departments settle?
The Department of Justice and police associations are recommending that departments base staffing decisions using a deeper analysis of work-loads, processes and community needs, rather than a population ratio.
Major cities, for instance, see their populations increase significantly during the daytime. While D.C. has a highly staffed department based on residents alone, roughly half a million workers commute to Washington, D.C., each weekday along with thousands more tourists. Cities that see crime surges may need to respond with higher staffing levels: As homicide rates increased in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed to fund 1,000 additional officers.
Putting the focus on the needs of a community rather than a rigid population-based formula makes sense, as cities try to engage in more community-integrated models of working. It also puts the focus on efficiency by streamlining processes and making officers’ jobs easier. Palm Springs, for instance, launched an app that automates police reporting. One app takes the place of 50-60 forms. Officers can save notes, even attach video or audio. Data is submitted real-time for anyone in the department to access quickly and easily. Palm Springs estimates it saves at least 45 minutes per report. When Orange County deployed the app, they saved $80,000 in paper alone and $800,000 in staff time. Implementing such dramatically efficient time savers can certainly mitigate the staffing crunch.
Technology will be an important part of how police departments deal with shortages. Venture capitalists are increasing their investments in police technology, a category that is helping police departments work more efficiently while delivering more transparency.
Look up how your city compares to staffing levels around the country and read more at Governing, How Many Police Officers Are Needed?