On this week’s agenda, the Davis City Council has before them an item that asks them to provide direction to staff regarding the potential acquisition of a police protective vehicle (PPV). The projected price range for the purpose of such a vehicle is $175,000 to $400,000.
While the community was inflamed on the issue of the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle) and the discussion of police militarization, the council suggested an alternative approach, with the city potentially acquiring an armored vehicle that is designed for civilian purposes, such as the BearCat.
However, back in October, interim city manager Gene Rogers urged the council to consider shelving this discussion until the budget comes up this year. This they have done, but the question about the PPV should be situated in a broader discussion about staffing needs, as well as the fact that the Glacier Drive incident in March which ended in a murder-suicide demonstrated that the city has ready access to two MRAPs from Woodland and West Sacramento – as needed for the less than five incidents most years that such a vehicle is needed.
When the Vanguard sat down with Assistant Chief Darren Pytel, one of the issues we discussed was future and present staffing needs.
He said it is not an easy answer to determine how many police officers a department actually needs to do the job before it. He said that,, traditionally, departments use some sort of a magic number. That approach will show the need for a lot of officers, but the problem that Davis would have is that there might not be enough for those additional officers to do.
The first question is what are your priorities. If you wish to investigate petty crimes, you would need a lot of detectives to be able to look into each minor theft and investigate it. Perhaps you want a whole bunch of cops in schools which would mean hiring SROs (School Resource Officers). Or perhaps you might want to be able to have visible cops, patrolling neighborhoods, which requires lots of bodies.
Previously the Vanguard had reported that Davis suffers from high property crime rates. Darren Pytel told the Vanguard that hiring more patrol officers is unlikely to have much effect on the crime rate. Sure, people like to see a cop drive down the street twice a day, but he said there is no correlation between that and reducing crimes.
He said that it might be a once-in-a-lifetime situation where a cop is driving down the street and sees a burglary in progress. Part of the problem is that it is very difficult to see burglars in the dark from the police car.
The most likely scenario of catching one in progress is either a traffic stop where they stumble onto a burglar, or through a neighborhood watch program.
On the other hand, he believed that putting people onto the SAFE Team, which involves identifying highly prolific criminals and determining with whom they are hanging out and targeting arrests around those networks helps to wipe out part of the problem. Crime goes down in Davis when highly prolific people are nabbed – but it goes back up as they are replaced by other individuals.
Another area that the city could focus on is the schools. Mayor Dan Wolk wants an SRO and there are talks with the school district about cost-sharing on such a position.
From Darren Pytel’s perspective, this is not the highest need for the city police, but he is basically supportive of the idea. The current officer assigned to the schools is dealing with a lot of real crime. He pointed out that the high school actually represents the highest concentration of people in the city during the day, and they end up dealing with a lot of victims.
With real crime as the focus, the police have moved away from the educational component of a traditional SRO program. They are no longer concentrated on educational stuff at elementary schools.
Even at the elementary level, truancy has become a huge problem due to the dynamics of family situations. He acknowledged that the schools are not doing a good job of dealing with bullying issues and that the police could get back into an educational component with more staffing in the schools.
The biggest issue they have right now is staffing because, at any given time, they have vacancies – people taking leave, people getting sick or injured, and right now they don’t have enough permanent staffing to cover those vacancies.
This is the Officer Work Availability Factor or the average annual hours officers are available for duty. In a report from Kirschhoff and Associates from March 2014, they noted, “A police department’s Work Availability Factor (WAF) is the average number hours a sworn officer is available during a year for operational assignment work.”
They found that the average hours a police officer is compensated for is 2080, but they lose about 420 hours to leave, training, and other factors reducing the effective hours to 1660.
Demands for bike officers, detectives, SAFE Team, and an SRO mean that bodies get pulled from patrol. As a result, patrol right now is down about eight bodies.
Darren Pytel believes they can hire an SRO (with the district funding half a position), hire someone for bike and the SAFE Team, and hire two and a half to three additional bodies for patrol. The problem, of course, is that will cost money.
Right now, even with the position seemingly underpaid, total compensation for a patrol officer is $155,000. So hiring just five positions would add nearly $800,000 to the city budget.
Clearly, that is not something likely to take place all in one budget year, but when we are looking at prioritizing funding, you have an SRO position which the Assistant Chief does not believe is the highest priority, you have $175,000 to $400,000 for a police protective vehicle, and you have $800,000 in staffing needs.
Which of these should council prioritize, if any?
—David M. Greenwald reporting