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Chief Koval's Blog

Debunking and Clarifying Urban Myths of "Forty" Officers

May 20, 2016 3:31 PM

In the past few days, there have been a number of questions posed to me or staff regarding a request for "forty" more officers in the next operating budget cycle!  No such request has been made (nor will it for 2017).  As best as I can deduce, this number was seized upon and taken out of context during a projected staffing needs presentation that was made before the Public Safety Review Committee (PSRC) on April 12, 2016, by Assistant Chief Sue Williams.  Based upon my directive, Chief Williams was instructed to convey my projected needs for public safety over the course of the next four years.  In a nutshell, I believe that there is strong evidence to urge adding an average of about ten commissioned officers to our workforce over each of the next four years.  (It should be noted that we had already signaled our need of support for seven officers in the 2017 budget in order to anticipate the opening of Midtown in January of 2018).

Last fall, in the midst of heated discussions in trying to secure support for the Midtown District Station, there was an eleventh-hour proposal that initially tried to link a "staffing study" to the Midtown initiative; this was subsequently severed from the project but was still advanced for subsequent review in 2016.  (The "new" staffing study began their work this past spring . . .)

From a historical standpoint, the subject of MPD staffing has been taken up no fewer than four times over the past twenty plus years; three of the study reviews were done by a hybrid of City staff and elected officials and the fourth was contracted out (at a price tag of over $60,000).  All four studies reached the same conclusion:  If MPD hopes to offer the qualitative services that our constituents have come to expect (and demand), then MPD is understaffed.  Whether you use the conventional benchmarks of officers/per thousand citizens, workloads, calls-for-service, etc., the result is the same.  We need to have more cops, particularly in light of our trending population growth and the eventual annexation of the Town of Madison.   

Since much of what I do is dealing with the "politics" of policing in Madison, I expect that the lines will be predictably drawn: One camp will maintain that the City is on the cusp of fiscal ruin, that there are more than enough cops to meet our needs (in fact, one faction went so far as to say we should be downsizing several dozen cops), Midtown should be delayed, violent crime rates are down, and I am a fear-monger intent on building an empire.  As someone who meets with constituents on a regular basis throughout the city, I can tell you that there IS a concern.  It is palpable, that our quality of life has been diminished and crime (or perceptions of crime) is partly responsible for this. 

One of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain noted that "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics."  The statistical cross-fires likely to occur in the ensuing months will no doubt be delivered with much bravado in support of whatever side you happen to take on the issue of staffing.  No one from the MPD is going to claim that crime has reached a fever pitch; although we will note that "shots fired" calls are not readily retrievable for statistical compilation but are certainly more prevalent.  Open records requests will undoubtedly ask for the predictable (and countable) incident-based reporting (IBR) numbers for Part 1 crimes . . .and (thankfully), this will show a crime rate that is largely stable and even in decline in certain categories.  BUT, these sort of inquiries do not begin to tell the whole story of the job dimensions of a police officer or the range of services provided that do not get counted or understood in terms of the time it takes to tackle profound calls like Emergency Detentions.

For example, in the first quarter of 2016, there were 3,130 reported IBR/Part 1 crimes.  Over the same period of time, MPD responded to 47,426 calls for service!  If your biggest reason to doubt the needs of staffing were tied directly to reported crimes and arrests, then you would have ample evidence to suggest that MPD does not have a compelling need to add staff;  since the 3,130 Part 1 crimes only constitutes about 7% of our workload!  This is a prime example of why I go to great lengths to tell people that I prefer the term "policing" to "law enforcement" when describing the work we do since the "enforcement of laws" is but a fraction of who we are and what we do!  There are a plethora of engagement activities that take place on a daily basis that are not considered or counted when only using crime data.  Neighborhood policing partnerships, community policing teams, mental health officers, Traffic Enforcement and Safety Teams (TEST), safety education officers in grade schools, and gang officers are among those niche areas that are vital to a vibrant and thriving community. 

If we stick, exclusively, to "Patrol" services, there are several categories of work even within that job description.  On any given day, Patrol Officers are weaving in and out, back and forth, between five major modalities:  preventive patrol, routine incident response, emergency response, criminal investigation, and problem solving.  From giving extra attention to data-driven "hot spots" (preventive patrol), to a civil dispute (i.e., landlord/tenant conflicts; routine incident), to administering naloxone to a heroin overdose or responding to an auto crash with injuries (emergency response), to investigating a burglary (criminal investigation), or to creating a high profile presence and strategic enforcement initiative at bar time in the downtown entertainment district (problem solving).  In essence, there are literally dozens of services and a myriad of reporting titles handled on a daily basis that will not be captured using only crime data.

For those who still insist that crime stats are all that matters when evaluating needs for staffing, one should consider the intangibles of even that amorphous indicator.  The "stat" of a crime committed and an arrest made (hopefully) does not begin to adequately capture the amount of time and human capital that is invested in order to provide exceptional service.  The beat cop takes the report, but that's just the tip of the iceberg!  A forensic investigator will be asked to do anything from taking photos, collecting DNA, dusting for latent prints, or blood splatter analysis (to name a few).  The reporting officer may have also retrieved evidence of the crime . . .this is subsequently processed/inventoried and left for civilian staff to properly categorize and intake.  The officer will no doubt have a lengthy report in most of these instances which have to be typed up and made ready for court.  Court intake detectives will have to apply quality and control assurance measures and draft affidavits and criminal complaints.  Follow-up investigation is tasked to detectives who do much more than just pursue leads!  Our detectives spend hours on end with victims, their families, and friends.  And these relationships often last for years after a case has been brought to trial or remains unsolved!  So even in the narrow context of "crime investigations and arrests," stats do not begin to scratch the surface of how many hours and staff are involved to provide this service.

In a slightly different way of talking about staffing needs, I want to comment on the numerous community initiatives and thoughts that have been shared by activists, organizers, not-for-profits, de facto leaders, and various elected officials who all have something to say in looking at the challenges that lie ahead in mitigating violence in our City.  The various suggestions are far-ranging and robust, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all cure-all for these very complex issues of our day.  Any time we can get a better handle on those socioeconomic and educational challenges that contribute to desperate actions being taken by desperate individuals, those are laudable objectives.

Interestingly, I compared the various plans and juxtaposed them to the role of what a gang officer attempts to do.  There are numerous common denominators.  By way of illustration, a gang officer is constantly being pro-active.  The path to success lies with affirmative engagement which consists of:

a.  Forging trusting and sustaining relationships

b.  Being present and trying to do everything we can to prevent youth from joining gangs

c.  As the youth is headed toward poor decisions, intervention becomes critical

d.  *Suppression (only when needed and only for specific, targeted individuals for whom there is probable cause to arrest). 

e.  Re-entry strategies incorporating our youth back into the fabric of our community as soon as possible after a suppression incident.

As you can see, pro-active pre-emption is very much a part of the community's response and we support those goals, unequivocally.  *But the one thing that is conspicuously absent is any real mention of "suppression."  There are times when all the positive programming and goals fall short or is too late or has individuals who are not willing to pursue better options.  Sadly, this is a brutal reality that also has to be discussed.  So while there is merit to investing in our collective future(s), we cannot ignore the practical implication of what is occurring today---as is evidenced by the homicides and series of "shots fired" calls.  At this juncture, the supports for preventing reckless acts are a long-term strategy for mitigation; but we have to deal with taking dangerous individuals off our streets--NOW!  This means we need to also include more cops in our City's future.  That doesn't play well in some circles but it has to be said. . .


Posted by: Chief Koval

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