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How Many Police Employees Do Cities Need

There are many factors involved in determining how many police officers are required to police a city.

*Cost…clearly one of the principle questions each city must wrestle with. Initial decisions can be made based on some nationwide averages. However, customizing a police department to the needs of the citizens must be determined by the governing agency after community input.

*Response time…many cities hold in high regard the length of time it takes to get a police officer to the scene of a particular call for service. Emergency calls, involving life and death issues differ from theft of a bicycle from an open garage and again differ from the report of a missing child or discovery of a home break in with property missing a few days ago.

*Police presence in residential neighborhoods…it is a widely held belief by members of the community as necessary to preserve peace and quiet enjoyment of the home. It is also true that frequent viewing of a police cruiser is a crime prevention essential.

*Traffic accident investigation, traffic law enforcement and accident prevention. These areas of civic involvement are always high in concern for cities considering incorporation. Usually, an unincorporated area is supported in these areas by the highway patrol agency. Typically, these organizations are not able to provide the intense nature of activity that is found in congested communities.

*Follow up investigations…in order to determine police organizational strategies, recover missing property and train officers to directly impact problem areas or crime trends, investigators must review the activities of field officers and review reports of criminal activity.

*Administrative services…organizational issues such as budget preparation/ administration, human resource management, training, professional standards management, policy development, fleet management, purchasing, administrative relationships with city officials and governing board communications demand several positions be directly allocated to administrative duties.

Each of the above topics is included in any response to determining the size of a police department. A common, nationwide, basis for the number of personnel allocated to a standalone police agency begins at 2 officers per 1000 population. Typically, county

sheriff’s agencies staff at a much lower level as the responsibilities of a patrol deputy in an unincorporated are much different than that of a municipal police officer. Sheriff’s run jails, patrol rural areas and are less involved with specific community needs. Training and community specific responsibilities are much less supported in agencies responsible for large unincorporated areas. Beat integrity is a term frequently used to describe areas of responsibility assigned to an individual patrol officer. That officer, in a municipal setting would be the first responder in his beat, patrolling that beat, identifying problem topics and area in that beat and being held responsible for the level of police response necessary in that geographical area.

Steve, some random thoughts after the meeting. There is a difficult line between giving the “unaware” citizen information about why a police agency and its officers function differently than a Sheriff’s Department and giving too much detail about the internal operation of a police organization. Our citizens have concerns but not much knowledge. I thought Ed Kelly was remarkably candid and aware of the differences in his comments last night. Training and community commitment are prime factors in the difference between what a deputy does and what an officer does. The uniform and shoulder patch and color of the police car are obvious to the public. What is not is the commitment and feelings for the community that municipal officers develop. There is a different type of ownership. The level of supervision is totally different as is the basic function of preventive patrol by field officers.

Jon Schorle , PhD, Retired Chief of Police



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