Policing Numbers: Local Law Enforcement Seeks Increase in Ranks

News Sentinel, April 26, 2013 | Go to article overview

Policing Numbers: Local Law Enforcement Seeks Increase in Ranks


Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch has asked City Council for 40 new police officers to protect the city's 180,761 inhabitants and its 104-square-mile portion of Knox County's total 525 square miles.

At noon today, when Mayor Madeline Rogero unveils her proposed budget to the council and the public at Ijams Nature Center, 2915 Island Home Ave., the chief's budget pitch will officially have been answered.

KPD currently has 406 officers, 10 short of what it is currently budgeted -- that comes out to just over two officers for every 1,000 residents.

Rausch said Knoxville will not become a less safe city if he does not get the new officers, who would be selected from a pool of nearly 1,200 applicants.

But with them, KPD could expand its proactive policing efforts, crime prevention strategies and other actions that could have a long- term improvement on the city's level of safety, he said.

"We are comfortable that we are protecting the city at this time, but 40 more would give us more folks to do more work and have an even bigger impact. It would give us the ability to move our city to that next level of safety," he said.

Knox County's population -- excluding the city's -- is 256,168, and policed by the Knox County Sheriff's Office, which also responsible for operating a jail and detention facility that accounts for much of its manpower.

Not counting those jailers, KCSO has 397 sworn officers, of which 152 are assigned to patrol outside the city boundaries. KCSO's total ratio is about 1.5 officers per 1,000 non-city residents -- lower if patrol officers only are calculated.

"We are stretched to our very limit on patrol," Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones said.

He said he will ask County Commission for some more officers next year, and the only reason he is not asking now is that he is in more need of new vehicles for the officers he does have.

Nearly half the KCSO fleet is over or close to reaching the 100,000-mile mark, with maintenance costs in some cases exceeding the value of the vehicles, he said.

"That's 100,000 'hard use' miles -- these are not family cars," he said. "If an officer cannot get to you because his vehicle isn't safe, then that officer can't be of any help to you."

Combined, Knoxville and Knox County have about 800 sworn officers, or almost two officers per 1,000 residents.

no magic formula

Chattanooga has a smaller population than Knoxville, but has more officers: 432, soon to be joined by 23 fresh faces from a training class. Of Chattanooga's current force, 292 are assigned to patrol.

But exactly how many officers should a community have, and what ratio of officers to residents will produce the most efficiency?

There is no fixed answer, according to a number of law- enforcement planning agencies, police chiefs and sheriffs surveyed by the News Sentinel.

"Everyone wants to find that magic formula, but it simply doesn't exist," said Rex Barton, police management consultant for the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service. "Every city is different."

Many studies over the years have compared the officer-to- resident ratios of various police agencies that have been part of numerous discussions about efficiency and manpower deployment.

"But I am unaware of any (minimum ratio) that a law-enforcement planning agency has recommended," said Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a law enforcement research organization based in Washington, D.C.

"That would be helpful in preparing budgets,'' but is impossible to set because of wide differences in communities, their demographics and geography.

The key questions in determining how many officers a given community should have are what it wants and expects from its police agency, and how much it is willing to pay to get that, said Bueermann, a retired police chief in Redlands, Calif.

"It has to be calculated differently for every community," he said. …

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