Wednesday, January 19, 2011

286 for 105,000? I'd Like It!

One of the most interesting things to come out of the Public Safety Sub-Committee meeting last week was a statistic presented by LPD Chief Ken Lavallee. Ideally, a city of Lowell's population *should* have 286 police officers. Instead, we have 200.

That's bad for pretty much all non-criminal elements involved in the equation. Presence is a huge deterrent to crime, esp. the street-level "crimes of opportunity" that make people feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods.

As a homeowner and someone planning to have a stake in the city for many years to come, I would certainly be willing to bear a proportional property tax hike if it meant the City could hire 86 more police officers. Unfortunately, though, the cost of those extra 86 cops is a lot more complicated than taking their average starting salaries, multiplying by 86, and then dividing by the # of taxpayers.

The retirements, health benefits, and other goodies are what led to a major reduction in the Newark, NJ Police Dept during its worst crime wave in years, and they're a major contributor to Camden, NJ (by several statistical measures the worst city in the United States...seriously) cutting half its police force. Yes, HALF of its entire police force...seriously.

Is there some way we could compromise here? How about 86 new police officers with a simultaneous compromise to limit all new public safety retirements to a defined benefit? A certain annual percentage could be offered by the city to an individual's 401(k), and that would be the end of the deal -- no major unfunded overhead to worry about when that officer retired and then lived another 50 years.


C R Krieger said...

Camden—I can remember when it was an OK city, with lots of Blue Collar jobs and it's own airport.

I am interested in how it really works out.  What is the ratio of retired to active?  Does the guy who retired in 1985 draw the same retirement as a guy who retired in 2010?  Lots of questions.

The other thing I would like to know is the "Open the Door" cost for a city of our size.

And, finally, is the 286 with clericals or just officers?

That is the problem with policy issues.  you either follow the recommendation of some expert, a recommendation that might not be rooted in hard analysis, or you do a lot of question asking

Regards  —  Cliff

KMM said...

It seems this issue is on everyone’s mind of late and there are some interesting thoughts about how to deal with it so I spent a lot of time reading the results of the LPD resident survey. No surprises there really; how you feel about crime or the police department pretty much depends on the neighborhood where you live. So now I’m just asking every person I talk to if they have any thoughts about how the city should deal with the severe shortage of police officers and/or concerns about public safety in general (yes I am a geek no need to point it out).

So far not a single person has said they have no opinion or they are not concerned at all. Considering events in Lowell and nationally since the beginning of the year maybe people are just paying attention at the moment. The most common response from folks is that they are concerned that police staffing levels are so low now that there is inadequate crime prevention. I found it interesting the average person is as concerned about crime prevention as solving crimes. The most common reason people said they were worried about crime? Property Value. This took me by surprise at first (apparently I had not talked to enough people who do not own property) but one Belvidere resident explained, “every time there is a major crime or murder in the city my equity drops another $5,000.00 the city needs to raise taxes and hire police officers again”. So I had to ask are you willing to pay for that. The answer, “yes!”
This is where Cliff’s question comes in; define the “that” we need.

More commonly though people thought raising taxes is not the answer but expect the city to find a way to hire more police officers with the money they already have.

So for giggles lets use the chief’s example that crime was at an all-time low when there were about 268 officers and the dept. was able to use more resources for crime prevention measures. Take in to consideration the country is in deep recession; there is no federal or state funding coming our way any time soon; if ever. If 68 officers is optimal but we can’t possibly afford it what would it cost me annually (yeah me the individual taxpayer) to hire a realistic number say 30?

Back to Cliff’s math:

There are about 26,000 parcels (taxpayers) in the city. The average salary for a newly minted Police Academy graduate is less than $40,000.00 (I do not know what drives one to this type of public service work for that money). Cost to the city for benefits, etc. must be close to a third of that annual salary so let’s say another $12,000.00 for a total of about 1.5 million. That means for about $60.00 per taxpayer we could hire 30 more police officers.

I am adding this question now to anyone I talk to, “Is $60.00 per year a reasonable price to pay to maintain safety”? So far I have at least one yes.

LTC has the subcommittee meeting on-line at: