Is Dallas making optimal use of its police force?

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Jane Clary was certain she was going to die.

She says a man robbed her and her friends at gunpoint a few hours after the Super Bowl on Lower Greenville. He ran away with their cash and they called the cops.

After two calls and about 45 minutes of waiting, they just went home.

“I seriously appreciate everything [police] do,” said Clary, 35. “But this is unacceptable.”

Clary, who also waited two hours for an officer to look at her car after a break-in the week before, and others like her are at the core of a heated debate at Dallas City Hall over response times and staffing.

Police Chief David Brown has argued that bigger is better. His department has shrunk in recent years, and he wants more officers to keep up with the growing population, violent crime and 911 response times.

But critics say Brown simply isn’t performing with the officers he has — especially compared with other police departments.

“It’s an effectiveness problem,” said council member Philip Kingston. “I think 3,500 cops ought to be sufficient to keep the city quite safe. It’s a question of how they’re being used.”

Here is a tale of the tape, based on an analysis by The Dallas Morning News of select cities and a December 2015 Dallas Police Department manpower report.

About those response times

The issue: Dallas has more officers per thousand residents than other large cities in the state. But Houston, San Antonio and Austin all have better response times than Dallas and fewer officers for each thousand residents — even when commuters are factored in.

Fort Worth, on the other hand, is facing similar struggles as Dallas. But its department is half the size of Dallas’.

Last year, the average response time in Dallas for the highest-priority call went up to 8 minutes, 5 seconds — a 45-second increase since 2013. Lower-priority calls ballooned by several minutes. And priority three calls now take more than an hour.

The debate: Brown has claimed that better-trained officers in a more sensitive policing environment are taking more time to get to calls. Kingston said the claim is “just not true. Response times are the results of staffing decisions.”

But police staffing consultant Alexander Weiss, the former director of Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety, said people should be “very cautious about doing these city-by-city comparisons.”

Possible differences in each city include crime rates, geography, hot spots, city land mass, poverty rates and other factors.

Brown’s predecessor, David Kunkle, said cities all seem to have their own minimum numbers of officers that they need. Kunkle was also the chief in Arlington and Grand Prairie.

The takeaway: Brown said he has mixed feelings about looking at other cities.

“On its face, I would caution to compare,” Brown said. “But at the same time, we compare all the time. We have to live with we might be compared.”

Is the department top-heavy?

The issue: Police associations have recently argued that the department has too big a command staff.

But the middle is also hefty. The Dallas department has a roster of 480 sergeants, who are front-line supervisors. That is about one sergeant for every 5.7 front-line officers in the department, excluding officers who were still training at the police academy.

Austin, San Antonio and Washington, D.C., all have about eight officers for each sergeant. And San Diego and Washington have nearly 10 cops for each sergeant.

Houston, which has also seen a steady increase in response times and an increase in violent crime, has only 4.3 cops for every sergeant.

The debate: Former Dallas Chief Bill Rathburn said the span-of-control for sergeants in the city “sounds out of balance.”

It is when compared to other large departments, except Houston. Having too few officers for each supervisor resulted in “higher personnel costs, less efficiency, and often reduced accountability,” according to a 2014 New Orleans inspector general report, which cited an earlier study. The report also recommended eight officers for each sergeant.

Brown defended his use of sergeants.

“I really believe we’ve benefited from having more sergeants in the field to supervise what was a very young workforce,” Brown said.

The takeaway: Dallas’ staffing model isn’t recommended by experts, but Brown feels comfortable with it.

Specialized units and patrol

The issue: Some specialized units have suffered in Brown’s tenure, such as DWI enforcement and the gang unit.

“We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Brown said Monday. “And we’re robbing Peter andPaul some days.”

But it’s also a matter of priorities. Other task forces and specialized units have popped up during Brown’s tenure with dozens of officers assigned to them.

When response times went up, two sizable task forces focused on warrantless narcotics searches and general crimefighting, as well as the Police Athletic League, were temporarily tasked with responding to 911 calls. Brown also increased patrol overtime.

Now, Brown has elected to revive a plan to put detectives and other nonpatrol officers back on the street for two-week rotations.

The debate: Rathburn also said the patrol rotations tend to not work because “detectives don’t want to do that kind of work” and may not be as useful on patrol anymore.

The Dallas Police Association leaders critiqued Brown’s philosophy in the latest issue ofThe Shield, its magazine for members. Steve Myers, a fourth vice president, wrote that the patrol rotation is “a futile response” and that the department needs to focus on basics. And the president, Ron Pinkston, wrote that Brown’s management style necessitated more cops.

Brown, who regularly touts crime decreases during his tenure, said he is doing the best he can with fewer cops. And he said he is being more proactive in staffing this year.

“Most of 2015, we were chasing it. We were reactive,” Brown said. “We’re in a process now where we don’t want to be where we were in 2015.”

The takeaway: Brown’s policing philosophy eschews some traditional units in favor of fighting crime when it flares up and engaging the community.

Guns, badges and desk jobs

The issue: In addition to losing more than 200 officers since 2010, the department also shed half of its civilian jobs. Civilians tend to be cheaper than sticking senior officers on a desk.

Almost every other large police department — excluding Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago — has at least a higher percentage of civilian employees in the police department than Dallas.

The debate: Brown said some civilian jobs are no longer necessary. He noted that he pushed to hire 20 civilians last fiscal year.

But police have a number of officers in jobs that are often done by civilians elsewhere.

The personnel division has 43 officers, but some do investigative work. The youth outreach unit has three dozen. The communications division has 59 officers. Nine cops work in media relations. Five officers are in financial and contract management.

Still, Weiss, the police staffing consultant, said civilianization is always one of the first things he looks at when assessing police departments. And Rathburn, who came up through the ranks in the civilian-dependent Los Angeles Police Department, said departments should start by staffing patrol properly, make decisions about priorities and leave the non-police work to non-police officers.

“You should only use a police officer where you have to have someone who has that authority,” Rathburn said.

Kunkle said all chiefs probably believe in civilian employees at some point.

“But the first time you come to a budget crunch, that’s the first thing that is cut,” Kunkle said.

The takeaway: Brown said he is apprehensive about making a push for large numbers of civilians because they could be laid off when times get tough, forcing cops back to desks anyway. Some positions could theoretically be civilianized, but Brown still wants more cops.

Staff writer Naomi Martin contributed to this report.

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