Editorial: More officers are needed

The city of Lawrence is to be commended for using a data-driven, research-based approach to police staffing.

Last week, Lawrence city commissioners were given a staffing study that showed the police department needs five more patrol officers to serve the city adequately. The study was based on a model developed by researchers at Michigan State University, and the city used a three-year average of police calls for service as part of the analysis.

The study determined that the city should have at least 87 police patrol officers. Current staffing is 82.9 patrol officers.

“This is the introduction of real metrics to try to determine what appropriate staffing levels should be,” City Manager Tom Markus said.

Police Capt. Adam Heffley said adding five entry-level patrol officers would cost the city about $478,000 in salary and benefits for the first year.

Markus said that cost could be reduced by eliminating the practice of using patrol officers to perform tasks that could be performed more cost efficiently by civilian employees rather than sworn law enforcement officers. Civilian employees generally are paid less than sworn law enforcement officers, and there may be opportunities for the city to use existing city employees who could work across department lines.

The police department is still determining which positions would be most appropriate to fill with civilians, but some positions that have been identified include spots in evidence, crime-scene processing and information technology.

It’s worth noting that Lawrence has experienced a significant spike in violent crime — including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — in the last year or more. Increasing the number of patrol officers is a necessary step in trying to address the issue.

It also is important to have enough officers on staff to ensure that lesser crimes that may not get assigned to a detective are still getting investigated, Heffley said. The public wants police officers to have enough time to conduct investigations into such crimes.

“That is also where we have the ability to address property crimes, such as a car burglary or a residential burglary, cases where you typically won’t get a detective assigned,” Heffley said. “We don’t have a large contingent in our investigation division, so this is kind of how we have to operate in order to keep addressing the broken windows.”

Adding five more patrol officers is a big step that will cost the city significant dollars. But the city now has data to support police staffing needs and based on recent crime numbers, there is an ongoing need for increased public safety. City commissioners should work to make room in the budget for additional patrol officers and conduct similar staffing studies on a regular basis to ensure police staffing remains adequate.


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