Monday, February 6, 2012

Are You Overstaffed, Understaffed Or Somewhere In Between?

The San Francisco area news outlet KGO TV had an interesting piece this weekend that covered an analysis of the San Jose Police and Fire Departments by an outside entity that came to the conclusion that both the Police and Fire Departments were overstaffed.

Right now, San Jose has just under 1,100, the same number per capita that it had in 1974 when the crime rate was three times higher. IBM says the department could drop a few hundred officers.

"I think our police department's already too small and our fire department is stretched too thin. There are better ways to deploy the resources we have. That's what we're searching for," Mayor Reed says.

Reed says cutting is not the goal, but saving money is. Unland wants assurances. "If you want to look at some of the other recommendations, go ahead. But police and fire are off-limits," he says.

The lean economic situation that many municipalities find themselves in has caused them to consider what was once unthinkable; cuts to the public safety budget. Are you surprised that both the Police and Fire associations are displeased by this study?

However, in this case, these associations are going to have to do more than just draw a line in the sand and say that cuts to police and fire are "off-limits". The idea that the police department has the same number of officers per capita as it did decades ago when the crime rate was three times what it is now is going to be hard to refute with just a blanket pronouncement of "No".

If you asked anyone at a police agency or fire service if they feel they are adequately staffed, they will nearly always say "No". However, given the economy we really need to make sure that we are being as efficient as possible in our operations. This is one area that a crime analysis function at your agency can help.

A crime analyst can help ensure that your agency is getting the most bang for it's crime fighting buck by targeting enforcement where it's most effective, identifying crime reduction strategies that work and providing the information your agency needs to make sound decisions.

What is your agency doing to make sure that your community is getting the most public safety value for it's tax dollar? Are you making sure the community is informed about what it's tax dollar buys?


  1. Comparisons with 1974 cops per capita are useful only in the context of the changes that have occurred since then. A long-time California Highway Patrol officer told me when he started in the early 70's the CHP was a law enforcement agency. "Now," he said, "we're a service agency and one of our services is law enforcement."
    Police officers do more than make arrests and firefighters do more than put out fires. If we wish to retain our budgets and staffing levels we have to make it clear we're providing more than just a lower crime rate.

  2. While this may be true, they police and fire associations are going to have to articulate why cutting officers and firefighters is a bad idea. The public is less likely to think that police and fire are sacrosanct in these lean economic times.

    However, even in the 1970's police officers did more than just lock up bad guys. They still went out and dealt with crazy naked people (mental health), they still handled traffic accidents (transportation) and even got the occasional cat out of a tree.


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