White Paper on Ashland Police Staffing – Shaun Moran, Citizen Member of the Ashland Budget Committee
White Paper on Ashland Police Staffing
Mayor and Members of the Ashland City Council
I ask that you reconsider your decision to hire 5 additional Ashland policemen. That decision was based on inaccurate facts which quite frankly, if had been more thoroughly vetted, would never have been presently last week.
Population Growth in Ashland
The question is not what the population of Ashland was 20 years ago but is our police department capable of providing adequate safety for our community today? A major underlying assumption justifying more police hiring is that population growth in Ashland over the last 20 years warrants more police. Our quality of life is threatened as police are unable to provide the safety needs demanded by our diverse community. Through the press and presentations to council the city has pressed this version of the facts. However, according to US Census Bureau data the population of Ashland in 2016 (20,861) was actually lower than it was in 2006 (20,974). Over the last 5 years the population in Ashland has essentially been flat never surpassing that 2006 peak. What population explosion in Ashland is the city actually referring to? Keep in mind the number of Ashland police staff has been the same since 2010 at (28) but still one more than the (27) officers in Ashland in 2006 which had the higher population. Despite the hype the facts show the police department is NOT chronically under staffed based on a population surge in Ashland. Maybe the city should be talking about a realignment or reallocation of our police assets to better address staffing in the patrol officer division. Could more staffing for the “boots-on-the ground” patrol division come from other areas of the police department?
IACP Data Doesn’t Justify Adding Police Staff
Furthermore, the city has relied on data from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, to justify the need for police hiring. The IACP used population ratio data (1 policeman for every 1000 residents) as a key metric in its hiring rational. In a July and Sept 2016 presentations to council and in a Sept Mail Tribune newspaper article it was stated that Ashland needed additional officers since current staffing levels are below national averages. It was stated that although “the IACP does not recommend relying solely on factors such as population as logic for hiring, based purely on the city population, the need for additional officers is clear”. Yet when I did some detective work myself and reached out to the IACP I was told they had abandoned that model more than a decade ago. In fact, the IACP doesn’t recommend using population based justification as a basis for police hiring at all. On the IACP website I found this statement, “Ratios, such as officer-per-thousand population are totally inappropriate for a basis for staffing decisions. Accordingly they have NO place in the IACP methodology”. It isn’t that the IACP believes that population to officer ratios could be used in police hiring, they says it has NO place in modern police hiring methodology. That’s not just in Ashland, but not in any modern police force in America.
Cost Projections Miss the Mark
Additionally, the $530,000 per year, average cost of $106,000 per officer, add-in proposal doesn’t seem to reflect the true costs to the city. When you calculate the police staff employee average pay per year (personnel services) and then add in the average yearly cost to the city to employ that police staff (service and materials), as outlined in the adopted 2015-17 budget, the true cost to taxpayers, appears to be higher. The cost for each new police officer would (on average) be roughly $184,000 per person or $921,000 year for five new officers. Data provided in the adopted 2015-17 budget (chapter 3-58) shows the average true costs to the city to hire a person in the Police Department (personnel services) being roughly $134,000 per year. (5 people x $134k = $670k, not $530k). Add the service and materials cost (average cost for someone working in the police department outside of labor) of $49,000 per-person-per-year (chapter 3-58) and the math changes dramatically. By using the cost assumptions outlined in the 2015-2017 budget the average actual cost to taxpayers would be approximately $184,000 per-year-per-officer or $921,000 total per-year. The expected (personnel services + service and material) cost outlined in the adopted 2015-2017 budget, doesn’t seem to reconcile with the $530,000 proposal by the city. Will that added cost be reflected somewhere else in the police budget? In addition how will the increase in PERS be reflected? Therefore is it possible the total cost to the city to hire these 5 new staff could be substantially higher than the outlined $106,000 per-person-per-year cost projection estimate ($530k/5 people = $106k) in the add-in proposal? Would it be fair to suggest that if you add items like, more police training, police cruisers, body cameras, protective vests, and ammunition, the total true cost for the 5 new staff could be more like $921,000 a year, not the $530k estimated by the city?
It is not clear what went into the $530,000 calculation. Was this all compensation and or benefits or does this include other costs? Is higher pay for more experienced officers taken into account in the numbers or does this reflect more junior officers as well? As you can see a detailed cost breakdown for expenses in the police department budget would be very helpful. What would be appreciated is some clarification as to how the $530,000 cost projection was calculated to better understand the implications for the 2017-2019 budget.
Best Practices Used to Determine Police Staffing
At the last city council meeting a speaker described his life on the street and said that “the more you treat a person like a criminal the more he will tend to act like one”. If you read the Policy Analysis Report for the City of San Francisco Board of Supervisors published on January 26, 2016 which focuses on best practices related to police staffing and funding, it states some of those same beliefs. The report highlights the “relationship between police staffing levels and crime rates remain uncertain and ambiguous”.
“Additionally, falling incomes and higher unemployment trends contribute to an increase in property crime. Most would predict that crime should decrease with an increased police presence as individuals would be deterred by the greater likelihood of being caught, but at least four major studies in recent years have surveyed the criminology literature and either found no relationship or a positive relationship between police presence and crime.” Maybe our city should be more focused on reducing bureaucratic red tape and reducing prohibitive regulation allowing businesses to come here to prosper, while creating jobs and employment opportunities as a way to combat the spike in non-serious crime in town rather than spending money on hiring more police staff?
Other Options to Tackle Crime in Ashland
The majority of crime in Ashland, 80-85% in fact, is non-serious, non-sexual and non-violent. Theft is the biggest issue and is a seasonal phenomenon occurring between April and October. Data from the Ashland Police Department over the last 3 years show the uptick in crime coinciding with the influx of summer tourists and travelers. Yes, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has grown and Southern Oregon enrollment has increased, yet over the last few years, the police cadets have been a great solution for the city to deal with the seasonal influx of tourist, travelers and this uptick in crime. The added costs for a summer cadet force is much less prohibitive and matches off exceptional well with our increased summer population. We also have a 25-30 member volunteer police force who could work more closely with the cadets and regular police staff to help. If anything the town should be focused on hiring non-uniform staff like mental health professionals to address the mental health epidemic in Southern Oregon. One things is for sure we could be considering other options than hiring 5 additional police officers. Why should the Police Union hold the taxpayers of Ashland hostage demanding we hire unnecessary staff, to solve a seasonal issue, when the better answer is more effective and increased use of cadets and our volunteers to strengthen policing?
I have a family with three young children and of course I want a secure and safe community for them to live. On the other hand I think it’s about time our city government begins to show some respect for the Ashland taxpayer. Isn’t it reasonable for the citizens to be presented with ALL the facts before a decision like this is made? Why the rush? Why should the onus always be put on the citizens of Ashland to ask the appropriate questions in order to understand how our money is being spent? Shouldn’t the Mayor and Council ask those difficult questions for us to insure our money is being spent wisely and efficiently? I think it prudent that before making any more hasty decisions which will add over $2ml alone to the 2017-2019 Police budget, the Mayor and City Council, start asking those sometimes uncomfortable, thought provoking questions around how our money is actually being spent.
Shaun Moran, Ashland Budget Committee
Editor’s Note: This White Paper was ignored, never discussed by the Ashland City Council.