I wrote about Oakland’s relative police staffing last fall, but I think now might be a good time to revisit those numbers, since demand for more officers seems to be reaching a fever pitch lately.
I’m hearing more and more often that Oakland has half the police force of most American cities. At-large Council candidate Charles Pine has spent the last several years pushing this sound bite, and hey – it seems to have worked. If you visit his ORPN website, you can see a nice list comparing Oakland’s police staffing per 10,000 residents to that of other large cities. Oakland is, of course, at the bottom of the list.
This is…let’s just say misleading. Oakland’s officer to resident ratio is dead last only if you don’t list any of the cities that have fewer police per capita than Oakland. But the truth is that if we were ever able to fully staff our department, we’d be roughly in the middle, ranked 34th out of the 60 largest cities in the US.
Let’s look at the reality of where we stand compared to other cities. If you want more detail, you can download all the data in xls format here:
Now, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have more police. As I noted previously, our officer to resident ratio is normal for low-crime cities, and far below what is normal for high-crime cities.
There are obviously benefits to adding officers to the force. More patrol officers would hopefully mean that officers wouldn’t have to spend almost all their time responding for calls for service, and could spend more time patrolling neighborhoods. Or maybe it would just mean that the department could respond to calls for service in a reasonable time frame. More investigators might mean that we aren’t stuck with 11 investigators responsible for covering 127 homicides (compare that to 12 officers to investigate 36 homicides in San Jose).
But the problems with the police department go way beyond staffing. As commenters here note frequently, morale is low. The force is young. Chief Tucker is uninspiring and disorganized, and clearly overmatched in his position. The department does not take advantage of available technologies to assist with smarter and more efficient policing, the way other departments around the country have. Equipment is both in short supply and outdated.
My point is – yes, we should add officers (although we should figure out how to pay for them first). But people need to realize that staffing levels are only a small part of the problems with OPD, and stop behaving as if an extra 100, 300, or even 500 officers is some sort of magic solution to all our problems. If we added another 300 officers tomorrow, there is absolutely no guarantee that we would see a significant drop in crime. If we’re looking for immediate results, I would rather see us focus whatever funds we can find on getting the police the equipment they need to do their jobs properly, and on investing in a CompStat-like system that can track crimes for more efficient policing.