By Sam Brattain
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Anderson has a population of 56,129, which means that with 120 police officers the city has one officer for every 467.7 people.
Compared to cities in the state of similar size, that rate is in the middle of the pack. Elkhart has the lowest ratio at 414, while Columbus has the highest at 611.9.
Of course, finding the appropriate number of officers is much more complicated than just measuring cops to civilians. Gregory Morrison, professor of criminal justice and criminology at Ball State University, said that in the 1980s the Los Angeles Police Department had about half the number of officers per 100,000 people than other large cities such as Houston and New York.
Police Chief Darron Sparks said the exact population of Anderson, or for any city, is almost impossible to gauge due to undocumented immigrants. He said 10 years ago there were an estimated 6,000 Hispanics in the city that were not reflected in the census.
He said it’s also important to consider the city’s geography. Sparks said the department now covers a larger area due to the city annexing property near Interstate 69.
“That growth affects our response time, as well as brings increased commuter traffic,” Sparks said.
Morrison said it’s important to look at not only how many officers a department has, but also how many serve in administrative positions such as chiefs, assistant chief and detectives, who typically are not patrolling the streets.
“It’s not uncommon to find a department with 30-40 percent of officers in administration,” Morrison said.
Anderson ranks highest among similar communities, according to FBI crime statistics, in crimes reported. In 2009, the most recent report, Anderson had 6,533 reports compared to 2,113 for Noblesville.
Sparks said his department receives 57,000 to 60,000 service calls a year, compared to 78,000 calls for Muncie. However, not all service calls result in reported crimes. If they are unable to get funding for the contracted level of officers, Sparks said the department will have to prioritize calls.
“If we get a call about a woman who had her purse stolen, that stuff’s important, but it could fall to the bottom of the list,” he said.
Such a scenario occurred last month when Rebecca Blake, 68, reported to police that her purse had been stolen in the Pay Less parking lot at Cross Street and Scatterfield Road. Blake said she was told by police that they were “too busy to investigate.”
According to Richard Brady president of Matrix Consulting Group, which provides analysis of local and state government agencies, one solution is to have civilians handle lower level crimes. For instance, Brady said many victims of minor theft just need a police report so they can file an insurance claim. Instead of sending a uniformed officer, Brady said, a civilian officer could take the report.
Brady said departments can take advantage of new technology that would allow victims of lower level crimes to report via the Internet, or through automated telephone systems.
Muncie is one department that uses such technology. According to deputy chief Rock Barrett, the department has faced cuts to its manpower. Currently, that city operates with 103 officers, down from 127 a few years ago.
“It’s slowly dwindled, but we’ve been able to maintain our essential services,” Barrett said.
Barrett added that his department did not fight the cuts, allowing that it was just a “reality” of having less revenue.
“Unfortunately crime doesn’t go down when the economy goes bad,” Barrett said. “You have to find new ways to get by.”
What APD is experiencing is reflective of what’s happening across the country, Morrison said.
“Recently there’s been an assault on public employees, and police departments are finding themselves subject to this too,” Morrison said.
As the economy continues to show little improvement and tax revenues fall, Morrison said cities have to find solutions immediately and can’t just “tighten their belts” until things get better.
City Council member Rick Muir shared that sentiment during the recent council meeting.
“I’m offering (the proposed cut) because we are in the most uncertain economic times I’ve ever witnessed,” Muir said.
The council is expected to vote on and adopt the 2012 budget on Oct. 25.
Contact Sam Brattain: 640-4883, firstname.lastname@example.org