The 2016 City budget included a provision requiring that MPD and the City Finance Department jointly prepare a report on MPD staffing. This is not the first time that the City has engaged in a review of MPD staffing. In 1993, 1997 and 2003 staffing committees – consisting of MPD command staff, alders and labor representatives – were formed to review MPD staffing. Each of those committees created a report, with a series of recommendations about future police staffing levels. In 2007, the City also reviewed MPD staffing, though through a slightly different mechanism. A private vendor (Etico Solutions) was hired to perform a data-based analysis of MPD's workload, and to provide recommendations on department staffing levels and allocation.
So, the 2016 report reflects the continuing City and community interest in MPD staffing. The newest report differed from the earlier staffing committees in two respects. First, the work group that researched and prepared the report consisted of two MPD commanders and two Finance Department representatives (alders and labor representatives were not included). And second, the report does not make specific recommendations about current or future MPD staffing. Instead, the report provides an overview of various methods of determining police staffing needs, and how each of those apply to MPD. A link to the full staffing report is included below, but here is an overview of the document.
There are a number of methods used for evaluating police staffing needs, each with strengths and weaknesses. A few of the common ones:
- Crime trends – a traditional measure for determining police staffing needs is a simple analysis of crime data/trends.This is actually a quite inefficient method, however, with significant limitations.A significant portion of police workload is spent on issues completely unrelated to crime (traffic crashes/enforcement, mental health crises, medical emergencies, civil disputes, etc.), and evaluating police staffing needs based only on crime data completely ignores that workload.
- Population ratios – a commonly used method for evaluating police staffing levels is to analyze officer-to-population ratios (the number of sworn officers per 1,000 citizens).The FBI publishes this data with their annual crime report, with a variety of data points (by size of city, by region, by state, etc.).While this is a simple method, it does not account for other factors that impact police staffing needs (crime, community expectations, actual workload, policing philosophy, etc.).Also, census data only includes residents of the community in question and does not include others who visit the community and impact police workload (for example, more than 120,000 commuters visit Madison every day).So, population ratios alone are not a particularly useful tool for determining precise police staffing levels.They can, however, provide useful context when assessing agency strength; a department with a lower than average officer-to-population ratio may indeed by understaffed, and comparison with other agencies can help demonstrate that.
- Benchmarking – this method compares the agency with one or more similar agencies.The goal is to identify agencies that are similar, and therefore remove some of the inaccuracy of officer-to-population ratios.This is still a relatively inaccurate method to determine agency staffing levels; determining the comparable agencies is a challenge; there are an endless number of variables to be identified and considered to accurately select comparable jurisdictions.Even then, benchmarking assumes that the comparison agencies are appropriately staffed, which may or may not be the case.
- Workload – this method uses actual officer workload data to determine staffing needs.It is considered the gold standard of police staffing analysis, as it is based on actual work requirements of the agency.The limitation is that it is typically applied only to the patrol function, as the data required for the analysis is not generally available for other work units. This is the methodology used by Etico in 2007, and it has been repeated annually by MPD since then.
So how does MPD staffing measure up when viewed through these methods? The report examined a few:
- Workload – as indicated, MPD has been repeating the Etico methodology annually to determine patrol staffing needs.The most recent analysis – based on 2015 patrol workload data – shows that MPD needs an additional thirteen (13) patrol officers.This does not reflect any needed staffing increases for other ranks or assignments.
- Population ratios – MPD's officer-to-population ratio is 1.9 (this is based on the 2015 US Census population estimate for Madison – 248,951 – which was the most current data available when the research began on the report).A complicating factor is that the FBI population data analysis divides cities above and below 250,000 population, and the comparisons are different.However, it is clear that even if Madison's population is not yet officially 250,000, it soon will be (if annual population growth remains consistent the 2016 population estimate will be well above 250,000).The officer-to-population ratios for other cities with populations greater than 250,000 ranges from 2.0 – 3.3 (depending on which region or subgroup is used).
- Benchmarking – the project team selected five similar cities for comparison (Boise, ID; Des Moines, IA; Greensboro, NC; St. Paul, MN; and Baton Rouge, LA).The average staffing level of those agencies (per thousand residents) was an average of 2.2.The report also included the five largest cities in Wisconsin (excluding Madison); the average staffing level of those agencies (per thousand residents) is 2.7.
So what do these figures mean? Well, the workload analysis is the closest thing to a formula for determining police staffing, and that indicates MPD needs an additional thirteen officers for the patrol function alone. And for MPD staffing levels to match these population ratios we would need to:
- To match the comparable/benchmark city average staffing, MPD would need to add 87 officers
- To match the five largest Wisconsin cities average staffing, MPD would need to add 211 officers
- To match the FBI averages, MPD would need to add between 37 and 361 officers (depending on which precise group is used for comparison)
To be clear: these comparisons are not the result of formulas or precise methodology. They should be viewed simply as providing context when discussing/evaluating MPD staffing levels. And by any relevant comparison, MPD staffing levels seem to be lagging behind the levels they should be. In fact, the 2003 staffing committee report recommended that MPD be staffed to a level of 2.0 officers per thousand residents...by 2010.
I encourage all community members to read the full report:
This blog was authored by Assistant Chief Victor Wahl.