Tonight, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen will discuss/debate whether to pass a budget for FY08 which includes funding for six more police officers than were included in the Mayor’s budget. I received a compromise proposal from Alderman Imhoff yesterday which I expect to be the basis of further debate on this issue. What the ultimate outcome will be after our discussions tonight, I do not know. However, whatever the final vote is, it is important in the future that the Mayor and Board present demonstrable evidence of specific needs that justify increases in the size of its work force. This is especially true with respect to substantial increases in the number of police officers because of the high, long-term cost of each new officer that we add to our force. It has been estimated that the cost to the City of each new officer over a 22-year period is approximately $2 million. This cost to the City can be more than doubled thereafter during an officer’s retirement. The point is that we should be sure to properly justify a specific need for new officers before adding them to our budget. This preparatory process—which has not been complied with today by those requesting the six new officers—should be honored and complied with in the future. It is a matter of responsible fiscal management.
With an absence of evidence supporting a need for six new officers, I have supported the Mayor’s budget, and I have supported his veto of the two budgets passed by the Board.Nevertheless, I would point out that when the Mayor and Board met on May 30th to discuss the budget, I supported the Mayor’s proposal that two additional officers be added to the force in the FY08 budget, and that another two be added in the FY09 budget.In light of the absence of any empirical data to justify increasing the size of our police force, this was a substantial compromise made by the Mayor. Despite my concerns that such increases may not be warranted, I supported the Mayor in this proposal.However, a majority of the Board flatly rejected the proposal as a totally inadequate and unacceptable compromise, and refused to accept anything less than six additional officers.
Though the Mayor’s compromise proposal would have provided four of the six requested new officers, he was accused of not being willing to compromise. Thereafter, some citizens have sought to drive a wedge between the Mayor and his two supporters and the police. But this is not an issue of who is pro-police and who is not.The Mayor and the entire Board are complimentary of our police and of Kim Dine, our Chief of Police. We’re proud of them and of him. We all recognize the great job that they have done and that they are doing. The issue is whether and when and by how many officers we should increase the size of our police force.
The accusations and name-calling and threats that have been communicated to me since May 30th is appalling and disgraceful. If I do not vote to override the Mayor’s veto, the typical message goes, then I will be responsible for a drastic increase in crime that is about to be poured out upon the City. In the couple of dozen emails I have received in the past three weeks on this issue, I have been accused of being stupid, of gutting the Police Chief’s budget, and of ignoring the crime statistics. As I will explain below, none of these criticisms is valid. And despite the angry and emotional appeals that have been leveled at me, I intend to do the right thing and to make decisions that are best for the City based upon facts and good reasoning.
I. Before adding six new police officers, a need for them should be demonstrated.
It has now been over a month since the Mayor and Board of Aldermen first began debating whether or not the City needs to authorize an increase in the City police force from 141 to 147. And for at least that long, those who are asserting that we need more officers have been challenged to show what is the particular problem and need that requires an increase in the force, and to give factual arguments about how many additional officers are needed and why. Despite the fact that this debate has continued for over a month, there has still been no evidence offered to respond to this challenge. If in fact the need were so clear, I would have expected the proponents to present some rational, factual argument that backs such a request. But none has been offered.
Many have asserted that new officers are needed because the city is growing and because crime is rising. If these factors do indicate a need for more officers, then it should be no problem stating what this data is that supports the request. But no such data has yet to be presented to support the request. Multiple assertions that we need more officers is not a substitute for a demonstrable showing that a need exists for which a specific number of new officers may be required.
It is important that the City make appropriate plans to handle its needs (including its projected needs) so that we can maintain and preserve the excellent quality of life we have in Frederick and so that we make economically sound decisions as to the size of our city government, including the size of our police force. Before we increase the size of our city government we should articulate specific problems or needs for such an increase, and we should fashion the specific remedy for the problems/needs that is appropriately tailored to meet such problems/needs.
The issue of whether or not the City should authorize 6 more police officers has never been based upon a study of data, nor on an analysis of how our department is doing. This fact has been amply demonstrated by the 12-20 emails I have received, none of which has cited any factual support for the City’s needing six more officers. The proponents of six more officers have decided that six officers are needed before they have analyzed data that could perhaps support such a need, and before knowing whether or not such data would support the request they have made. I have said from the beginning, I believe such a study and such analysis should precede the City’s increasing the authorized size of our force above the 2.3 officers per thousand level. I am not in favor of increasing the size if we cannot articulate the specific problem for which more officers are needed. And I am not in favor of adding a particular number of officers unless we can articulate why that particular number is required to meet our needs. The City has not gone through this process. Neither have any of the proponents for additional officers gone through this process.
Every month various proposals and requests are brought to the Board of Aldermen, and such requests are routinely supported by thorough studies and analysis, drawing upon available facts, figures and reasoning in support of proposals. In an era where we routinely insist upon studies, statistics and other data to substantiate precise needs and well-planned solutions, the City should insist upon requiring the same basis before expanding the size of its employee force—especially where the targeted expansion includes multiple employees with a multi-year price tag of $12 – $24 million. That is exactly what should be done here to support any request for additional police. I would suggest that the pertinent information would include data on crimes and arrests—including locations and dates—comparing it with other years and including the number of officers on the force.
II. Email messages advocating for six more police officers.
One email said that we need more officers because the studies show that such a need exists. At least this individual, and I agree that the need for more officers should be premised on some study of how our department is doing in addressing crime. But, I differ with this individual as to whether any study exists that supports increasing the size of our force. I have never seen such a study, and I’m not aware of statistics that are supportive.
One email criticized the Mayor for “gutting the budget of the FPD.”This accusation is totally erroneous. The Mayor’s budget, which includes the police department’s budget, gives $2 million dollars more to the police than what they had last year. One thing is certain, the police budget is not going to be gutted. The police get at least $2 million more in this budget; the question is whether there will be yet another $300,000 added to the FY08 budget.
One email chastised me for not giving Chief Dine the extra police officers that he requested. But Chief Dine has not asked for six more officers—not at the public meetings I’ve attended. Chief Dine submitted a budget that was $2 million more than last year’s budget. I remember two parts of his proposed budget that indicated he could have trouble staying within his budgeted amounts. But he thought it was possible to achieve, and we were all aware that he had available to him inter-departmental transfers if a particular sub-department should be unable to stay within its budgeted limits. We also know that the Police had an excess of funds during the last budget cycle. To the Chief’s credit the department turned back to the City’s General Fund $845,570 in unused funds at the end of the FY06 budget. This year it is projected that the Police will turn back $230,000 of unused funds to the City’s General Fund. Historically, we have every reason to believe that the budget proposed by Chief Dine is a good and appropriate budget. At $22 million, it is ten percent more than last year. With the new computers that have been purchased and will be purchased for 61 squad cars, our officers will be better equipped and more efficient than ever before. With the 12 new officers that will graduate from the police academy next week, our force will receive a substantial boost in personnel to help meet the City’s needs. Perhaps it was because of these things that the Chief did not request more officers. But whatever the reasons may be, he did not ask for more officers. I happen to believe that Chief Dine is a good administrator and a very good police chief. If and when he projects that we will need more officers, I expect he will say so.At this point he has not.
On Tuesday (2 days ago) I did receive one email that argued that statistics showed that Frederick needs a larger force. I will discuss this argument in more detail later. But with the exception of that one email, I have not seen even an attempt to make a good statistical argument of why we need more officers. I am aware that the word has gone out for citizens to write me and urge me to vote to fund 6 more officers. This explains why I have received more such mail in the last week than is customary for an issue that is before the Board. But none of the emails have provided the type of support I am looking for, although some of them were quite forceful in their language. Several of them made it clear that if I did not vote to fund 6 more police officers now then they would not vote for me in the next election. Some of the emails sought to influence my vote by threats, name-calling and disparaging comments. I always marvel at that type of persuasiveness. I have always tried to base my opinions and my votes on sound principles and facts; I continue to try not to be influenced be threats and emotional pitches that are not backed by facts and sound reasons.
III. Frederick City Crime Statistics
I mentioned that one email directed me to some statistics that the writer said warranted the addition of six more police officers. I looked at the web sites to which I was directed, but I did not find the information supportive. But I will share some of the information that I found on those sites.
One site reported that violent crimes in Frederick has steadily decreased beginning in 2001 as follows:
Year Rate per 100,000 people
This same site also showed a similar, decreasing trend in property crime during the same period:
Year Rate per 100,000 people
These figures speak very highly of Chief Dine and the entire force, but they do not make the case that we need six more officers. It is worthy noting that during the same time period, in Hagerstown, a smaller city, that incidences of crime are less, but that the opposite trend has taken place:
Year Rate per 100,000 people
Figures for Baltimore showed the same decreasing trend in violent crime that we have experienced in Frederick, although the incidences are approximately twice as many per person there as they are in Frederick. Here’s what the figures show for Baltimore:
Year Rate per 100,000 people
Information was not available on Gaithersburg and Rockville—two cities of similar size to Frederick.
This site and another site compared the City ofFrederick to a national crime average (using 2004 figures). This information showed violent crime to be slightly higher here than the national average, but it showed Frederick to have less property crime than the national average. And in terms of total incidences of crime, Frederick’s crime rates are better than the state average and comparable to the national average. But regardless of how Frederick stacks up in these ratio comparisons, this exercise is not helpful in determining whether or not the size of our current force is adequate and proper. More helpful would be a comparison with other cities of similar size and conditions.And most helpful would be figures that would show crime rates within Frederick City itself during the past few years, showing the corresponding population and size of force figures. It would also be helpful to look at trends for when and where crimes occur in the city. But none of this critical information has been presented to support a need for additional officers.
IV. Issues of Fiscal Responsibility
1. First determine if there is a specific need. While there are some outspoken proponents for increasing the size of our force, there have also been many responsible citizens who have supported the approach that the number of officers should not be increased unless a showing can be made that there is a need to do so.
All of the City’s elected officials receive information about crimes and arrests in the City. We receive information that allows us to see when and if criminal activity is increasing in certain areas. The Police Department also has this information, and it is their charge to regularly assess how to meet such needs—whether their existing assignments and approaches are adequate; whether they should change assignments to meet emerging needs; and whether they believe additional officers are required to meet needs. I have seen no such statement or request from the Police Department. If the Police Department feels there is a need for additional officers to meet needs, then the request and the supporting basis should be presented before we add officers.
One of the primary concerns of many Frederick residents has been to hold the line on City taxes and to limit the growth of government as a principal way to accomplish this. Because of this, it is the responsibility of elected officials to be constantly vigilant to seek to trim excesses and improve efficiency in government.And where a need is demonstrated, legislators have the responsibility to identify specific problems and needs and to fashion solutions that meet those needs in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. In order to fashion such solutions we must understand the nature and extent and description of the specific problems to be solved so that the solutions we fashion are narrowly tailored to meet the identified needs without incurring excessive taxpayer expenses.
Three of my colleagues propose that the City add 6 additional policemen to its force beginning in budget year 2008. Our current force size is 141 officers; the proposed addition would bring the authorized force to 147. Over a 22-year period, the cost to the City of each additional officer would be approximately $2 million (or $90,000/year [for salary and benefits]). Thereafter, during retirement, this could cost the City an additional $2 million. Thus, by increasing the size of our police force by six officers, the City is undertaking a cost of $24 million over the next 50 years (or $545,000/year).
This high cost does not mean that we should not add police positions. It just means that we should identify the need, consider the options, count the cost, and weigh the alternatives BEFORE we decide how many new officers the City should have. Before we grow the size of the City government by creating new, permanent employment positions, we should make sure that the new positions are warranted. This applies to all permanent positions, including the police force. It is easier to increase the number of employees than it is to decrease the number.
Using this approach to the question of whether we need additional police officers, and if so, how many, the first step is to identify the specific needs that warrant additional officers. If a specific need for more officers cannot be articulated, then the analysis should stop. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Similarly, if all someone can do is assert that he or she “feels” we need more police officers, then the analysis also stops there. Only if there is a demonstrable need, should we consider adding new employees.
Demonstrable need can include future projections and trends. But there should be some specific analysis of how many officers are needed to solve what problem.
In the current budget debate, it has been asserted that the City needs 6 new police officers. But no adequate justification has been presented for this assertion. Comparing the ratio of police offers to population of our City with that of Hagerstown, Westminster,Gaithersburg or Rockville cannot prove a need for more officers.Neither does a comparison of Frederick City Police Department with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office prove such a need. Such comparisons avoid the ultimate question of what is the specific need for which the additional officers are sought.
2. If there is a need, first determine if the need can be met without adding new employees. After a specific need or problem is identified, the City should first consider if that need can be met without adding more police officers. For example, can the attention of the officers be redirected from one time/place to another in order to meet an identified need? If so, then that is the preferred solution. Only if such redirection is not sufficient, should we look to add officers.
Sometimes a need can be met by adding additional equipment or changing policing tactics. For example, in the 2008 budget we will be adding 11 new advanced computers for cruisers at the cost of $74,435. This will bring to 61 the number of computers that we will have in our police cruisers. The purpose of these computers is to increase the speed and efficiency of police work. If the computers were not expected to increase the efficiency of our officers, then it would have been a waste of money to purchase them. Will the addition of these new computers meet the need for which new officers are sought?
Another potential solution would be to redirect police officers away from some tasks they have customarily done, but which could be done by non-police officers at a reduced cost. For example, could we reduce the number of police officers committed to control traffic during the Frederick Marathon? (The fact that the Frederick Marathon pays for such police service does not eliminate the fact that the police are nevertheless paid from the Police budget, including overtime, and that such services makes them unavailable for other, traditional police services.)
At the end of June, the City’s police academy will graduate 12 new officers, who will then begin to add their services to the force. This is a significant influx of new officers? Will this be sufficient to meet our needs? For those who may contend that this increase is not sufficient, they should state in what specific respects this is insufficient.
3. If new officers are needed, there should be a connection between the need and the number of new officers requested. What is the basis for asserting that the City needs 6 new officers? Why not 12 or 20 or 30? The absence of there being any justification for the suggested number “6” is an indication that the requisite analysis has not taken place. There is no specified need, and there is no specific solution identified to fit any specified need. This absence demonstrates that the increase is being sought based only upon feelings or desires, and not upon any thorough analysis.
Some use the argument that the number of authorized police officers for the City should be 2.3 officers for every thousand people. The City has sought to maintain such a ratio, but adherence to this ration does not directly address the question of whether we have the right number of officers because it does not take into account specific needs and problems. Measuring how well the City stacks up against this ratio has limited value. But, for whatever it’s worth, the City does stack up well against this test.And if that is the extent of one’s argument for new officers, then no new officers should be added. In his May 16th email, Chief Dine stated that it is his recommendation that the City maintain a police force whose ratio of police per thousand is 2.3. The current authorized force size of 141 officers fully accomplishes this without adding any additional officers.
The City’s current police force of 141 officers meets the 2.3 ratio goal. It fully complies with Chief Dine’s request for officers.This size force provides for the safety needs of the City. It does not compromise citizen safety nor does it jeopardize the quality of life in the City. There is no cut in force numbers nor in financial backing for the Police Department. In fact the FY08 budget equips the police force better than they have ever been equipped before.There is no doubt that other police officers will be added to our force in the future. But these additions should be the result of sound business practices and demonstrated needs, not just unsupported assertions.