Tallahassee Reports has been told by public safety sources that a “crisis is brewing” in the Tallahassee police department. The “crisis’ revolves around staffing issues that have been documented for years, yet have not been addressed.
The staffing issues, say sources, are being ignored by elected officials and city management, and are now being revealed in slower response times, more calls for service, and less proactive policing.
City of Tallahassee data shows that the number of sworn officer positions has declined from 359 in 2008 to 355 officers in 2014. The number of patrol officers has declined from 216 in 2010 to 214 in 2014.
During this same period, 2008 to 2012, calls for service increased from 137,076 to 173, 484.
During the 2010 budget cycle, police officials informed upper management and the city commission that staffing was an issue.
“Over the last several years, the Police Department’s staffing level has not kept pace with population growth, workload, or staffing increases recommended by two (2) in-depth staffing studies.”
The report referenced above and completed in the early 2000’s by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), concluded that the department was approximately fifty patrol officers understaffed to meet a 50% goal of proactive time for patrol officers.
After the study, between 2003 and 2008, the City added 13 officers, but since 2008 the number of sworn positions has actually declined.
During the 2011 budget cycle, the police department reported that:
“even though the number of reported crimes decreased during 2009, the number of calls for service increased 4.9% between 2008 and 2009. Over the last five years the total number of calls for service increased over 11%. As a result of these calls for service, officers write approximately 70,000 reports annually.”
During the 2012 budget cycle, the police department informed upper management that:
“the number of reported crimes increased slightly during 2010, but the number of calls for service increased dramatically between 2009 and 2010. Over the last five years the total number of calls for service increased over 12.5%. As a result of these calls for service, officers exceeded 72,000 reports for the first time.”
During the 2013 budget cycle, the police department reported that:
“data obtained from the FBI’s 2011 Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report, Tallahassee’s crime index (total of violent and property crimes reported) has increased from 10,381 in FY10 to 11,024 in FY11. This represents an overall increase of 6.2%. Along with the number of reported UCR crimes increasing during 2011, the number of calls for service increased 1.0% between 2010 and 2011. In fact, the annual calls for service have increased from 41,746 in FY07 to 156,737 in FY11.”
Police Department Requests More Officers
During the 2014 budget cycle, the police department asked for more police officers. The request stated:
“The addition of five police officers and one sergeant will aid in reducing the response times for priority one and priority two calls for service. In FY12, the Police Department’s average response times for priority one and priority two calls were 6.5 minutes and 9.3 minutes respectively. The Department’s goal for priority one and priority two calls is 5.0 minutes and 9.0 minutes respectively.”
The City Commission failed to approve the request for five police officer positions.
Staffing Comparison with other Cities
A police officer staffing comparison between Florida cities, created by an organization called Governing, seems to validate the concerns provided to elected officials and the city commission over the last ten years.
Governing’s research, shown in the chart below, indicates that the City of Tallahassee ranks 27th out of 40 cities in Florida in police officers per 10,000 residents.
Based on the analysis, the City of Tallahassee has 18.7 officers per 10,000 residents. The average for the state, based on 40 cities, is 21.8 officers per 10,000 residents.
For Tallahassee to reach the state average, the department would have to add 52 sworn police officers.
Staffing Impacts: Calls for Service, Response Times, and Community Policing
As detailed above, City documents show that from 2008 to 2012 the calls for service increased by 26% and sworn officer positions declined. The impact of these trends were described in the most recent budget document:
“In fact, the annual calls for service has increased from 141,746 in FY07 to 156,737 in FY11. The result is that response times have been increasing since 2007. Priority 1 calls require immediate dispatch (i.e. felonies in progress, life threatening calls or calls with injuries, alarms reporting crimes in progress) and have increased from 5.3 minutes in FY07 to 6.8 minutes in FY11. Priority 2 calls require dispatch within five (5) minutes from receipt of the call (i.e. assaults, all hazardous traffic situations, traffic crashes without injury that are blocking traffic, calls in progress not threatening life or property, missing persons involving individuals unable to care for themselves) and have increased from 8.9 minutes in 2007 to 10.4 minutes in 2011.”
The chart below shows that the number of calls for service per officer has increased from 381 in 2008 to 532 in 2013.
Documents indicate that Tallahassee’s police department uses a community policing approach. More specifically, city documents provide that:
“Patrol personnel are assigned to a geographical zone so that they may become more familiar with the residents who live and work in the area and with the activities that typically take place. This encourages more interaction between officers and residents and allows officers to focus on crime prevention and enforcement activities that may be unique to their zone.”
However, sources say that the lack of staffing to address increased calls for service, means efforts to engage in community policing and proactive enforcement have been reduced over the last 6-8 years.
What is an appropriate number of calls for service per officer?
In the 2010 city budget document, the city listed two benchmarks, the highest was approximately 138,000 calls for service with 359 sworn officer positions.
Based on that benchmark and latest calls for service in 2013, the Tallahassee police department would need 90 more officers to meet the ratio of officers to calls for service provided in 2010 budget document.
Since the 2010 budget document, the city has quit publishing the calls for service benchmark.