Mayor McGinn recently announced a proposal to hire an additional 10 police officers at a cost of $1 million a year. He also has allocated $950,000, over two years, to purchase a gunshot locator system which can be used to determine where gunshots occur and what kind of weapon was fired.
I suppose I am expected to be jumping for joy.
Obviously, something is better than nothing, and every little bit helps. However, it’s important to keep this in perspective.
Let’s assume for the moment that in the space of two years, SPD can screen, select, hire, and train 10 officers who complete all phases of training and probationary status, and they make it out onto the streets to fight crime, and zero attrition rate during selection, training, probation, or resignations once they get a taste of the streets (this is an optimistic best-case scenario).
Five precincts. Five sectors in North, four in West, three in East, three in South, and two in Southwest, making 17 squads. Seventeen sectors across three shifts, plus relief squads (one South, one Southwest, at least one north. For the sake of argument, let’s assume one per precinct, for a total of five). Seventeen sectors by three shifts gives 51 squads, plus five relief squads, giving 56 squads.
And among those squads we will sprinkle 10 new officers, assuming best case scenario of finding, screening, hiring, and training. At maximum spread, 10 squads could get one new officer each, which could be covered within one or two precincts, depending on which precincts are the lucky recipients. Or, two officers could be sent to each precinct, for the Commander to allot to two lucky squads within the precinct.
Ten new officers is a step in the right direction (a baby-step), and certainly better than none at all. But not much better. The numbers, assuming best case hiring and training scenarios with no attrition rate along the way, will barely make a ripple in the pond. And it will not actually bring the department up to 1,310 sworn officers, as claimed.
We’re not at 1,300 now. We are at 1,300 sworn officer positions, a little over 400 of which are assigned to patrol in the precincts (this does not account for the Patrol On-Loan list which carries officers technically assigned to patrol, but who are actually working somewhere else in the department on a “long term loan”, which in some cases can last the better part of that officer’s career; also, that number is due to drop sharply as more personnel are drawn into training and support staff to implement the 20/20 projects).
Now let’s step out of best case scenario world and back into the real world.
Since this is a public relations ploy, there is political will behind the hiring. The will is to get it done ASAP, so that it can be touted again later for its success.
Looking back to very recent history, we have seen this happen before. The hiring drive of 2005-2007. When hirings were not resulting in new officers at the pace City Hall and the 8th floor of SPD Headquarters wanted, they made some adjustments: background case detectives that were recommending a candidate(s) not proceed further in the process/not be offered a position, were being overruled and told to retain the candidates in the process anyway.
Field Training Officers (FTO’s) who were finding unacceptable performance during field training rotations (out on the streets, not in a sterile safe training environment anymore, but out in the real world) and wanted student officers sent back for remedial training, were overruled (in the program students are supposed to be granted one attempt at remedial training and remedial observation to confirm training before being sent back to FTO to finish field training).
Some who were continuing to show substandard performance were, rather than being dismissed as the system is designed, instead recycled through remedial training rotations over, and over, and over again, until they could just barely eek out a minimal performance.
One notorious case involved a non-performer being sent back through remedial training five times over the objections of the Field Training Officers, who agreed this person was not cut-out for police work. Lt. Greg Schmidt, responding to the command pressure, scrambled to find any way he could to eliminate attrition from the Field Training Program completely.
Fortunately this phenomenon involved a small number of people, but it is still frightening that commanders at the Chief level (Deputy Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs) would manipulate the process like that, given the stakes involved in this job. Do I think they could do it again if pressured? Of course, all the responsible commanders are still here.
To be rigorous, the hiring and training process is expensive. And I can’t help but wonder, how many positions could we have tried to create and how rigorous of a hiring and training process could we maintain, if we weren’t buying fancy new gadgets like “gunshot locators”. Sure, the gunshot detecting technology evolved in the Boomerang series of systems, and the Individual Gunshot Detectors. But the systems were never foolproof, and are still developing. This is not a technology in it’s maturity. Although I am sure the vendors put on a flashy Powerpoint/video presentation, I have trouble seeing the wisdom in buying into a system like this before it has proven itself consistently.
And the system, if it’s advertised accuracy is correct (you know my suspicions about that), will not make more officers available to respond faster to incidents of shots-fired. We respond to those calls now as soon as we are able, given resources available at the time. This system plus 10 more officers across more than 50 squads will not improve that response noticeably either.
On a more positive note…
I will say the next generation of replacement mobile data terminals (MDT’s) is absolutely necessary. The volume of information we utilize in modern policing to act safely, efficiently, and with due investigative diligence and attention to detail, requires an up-to-date computer system in the field. Long gone are the days when, like on TV, such information traffic can be conducted via radio alone. And having a working up-to-date in car computer system available to officers in the field does help them get information faster, complete responses and investigations faster and more efficiently, and get them back “in-service” and available to the public faster than would otherwise be possible.
The replacement MDTs won’t make us noticeably faster or more available than present, unfortunately, but failing to update the system will result and a steady increase in response times and decrease in the amount, and amount of time, units are available the public. So it is a vitally important system, and an important modernization/upgrade.