If you ask Chief Paul Marzocca, you’ll never hear police departments say they have enough officers because they are always establishing needs and wants.
“Needs always come first,” the El Mirage police chief said.
However, there are many avenues departments and municipalities explore when deciding how many officers to budget.
According to numbers provided by 13 departments in the Phoenix metro, Paradise Valley has the greatest number of sworn officers per 10,000 residents — 22.5. The town between Phoenix and Scottsdale serves more than 14,600 residents. In turn, 24 of the department’s 33 sworn officers are designated patrol officers, leading to a high mark in patrol officers per 10,000 residents, with 16.4.
Elsewhere, Avondale, Glendale and Scottsdale have more than 14 sworn officers per 10,000 residents. Goodyear is at 13.2, with the other municipalities below 13.
On the flip side, patrol officers per capita appear to benefit smaller communities. With Paradise Valley having less than 15,000 residents, its patrol officer-resident ratio is more than two times higher than the bigger places. El Mirage, with more than 35,700 residents, has 10.6 patrol officer per 10,000 residents. Departments in cities with populations greater than that sport less than 9 patrol officers per 10,000 residents.
“Having one of the smallest police departments in the Valley, we must maximize our resources and efficiency,” Mr. Marzocca stated. “Our police vision statement is ‘Building a culture of trust, collaboration and continuous performance improvement.’ We ask a lot of our officers and showed a dramatic increase in self-initiated activity last year over the previous. We ask our officers if they take a crime report to try to solve it instead of just forwarding it to investigations. I believe it is more rewarding when one can solve a crime and provide justice to a victim then forwarding a report on, hoping it one day gets solved. We have also seen a negative side of having most of the staffing in patrol which taxes investigations and we don’t have a rapid response unit to deal with emerging problems.”
Departments look at many methods when determining proper staffing. In 2018, prior to Mr. Marzocca’s arrival as chief, the El Mirage City Council approved five additional sworn officers to create a new patrol squad, which at the time they believed was needed. In addition, two police assistants also were approved.
In 2019, after the chief’s arrival, the department added an officer to work a DEA Task force and added an additional police assistant, bringing the agency’s police assistants up to three. In 2020, they added a civilian position to take on the duties of a sworn administrative officer who will be retiring later this year.
“My strategy is to incorporate civilian personnel where we can and to create efficiencies in the department,” Mr. Marzocca stated.
Over in Glendale, the decision is heavily based on workload demand. Factors that play into this would be calls for service also allowing for proactive enforcement and related administrative time.
“This is analyzed annually prior to shift change,” Glendale police stated. “Another factor would obviously be other operational commitments placed on the department such as major events, criminal investigations and the list goes on.”
The El Mirage Police Department has been the beneficiary of outside sources when it comes to adding positions. El Mirage used a grant from the state to partially pay for a gang enforcement officer assigned to the state gang task force. In addition, Dysart High School funded an officer to work 10 months out of the year at the lone high school in El Mirage.
On whether the department has enough officers, as Mr. Marzocca said earlier, it comes down to needs versus wants.
“We are not using a formula per se and must balance the needs of the community with the costs of having a new sworn officer,” Mr. Marzocca stated. “Years ago, when the state cut funding for mental health, a lot of the burden was placed upon law enforcement to deal with patients in crisis. We went from not only being first responders but also the last responders and when programs fail, we leave it to law enforcement to handle these situations. Our officers were ill equipped at the time to deal with mental health, but through the years every officer has been trained in CIT Crisis Intervention Training and de-escalation techniques.”
The Buckeye Police Department uses a blend of staffing assessment models when determining how many officers it needs. They include the per capita approach, the authorized level approach and the workload-based approach.
Officer Donna Rossi stated the department traditionally strives for 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents. Their current level is 1.1 officers per 1,000, according to Ms. Rossi. Using 2019 population estimates and the 98 sworn officers reported by Buckeye police, the department has 1.23 officers per 1,000 — or 12.3 per 10,000.
However, department guidance states agencies using the per capita method may risk a biased determination of their policing needs.
“There are several reasons for this,” according to the guidance. “First, a generally accepted benchmark for the optimum-staffing rate does not exist. Rather, there is considerable variation in the police rate depending on community size, region, and agency structure and type. For example, it is generally known that police rates are substantially higher in the northeastern than in the western regions of the United States. When comparing individual jurisdictions, it is not uncommon for similar communities to have per capita rates that are substantially different.”
Instead, a more comprehensive attempt to determining appropriate workforce levels considers actual police workload, according to the guidance. Workload-based approaches derive staffing indicators from demand for service.
Still, there is no universally accepted standard method for conducting a workload-based assessment.
Recently, Buckeye police was budgeted for six new sworn and two non-sworn positions for Fiscal Year 2021.
“Our resources have not been strained to the point of being unable to handle these two challenges,” Ms. Rossi stated about the COVID-19 pandemic and recent protests/rioting. “We utilized our overtime budget to staff for the protests and the potential sick leave because of COVID. We have developed emergency staffing plans for the loss of patrol staffing at 20%, 35% and 50% loss levels that include mandatory 12-hour shifts and placing detectives in the patrol rotation.”
With protests and rioting by the day in the aftermath of the police custody death of George Floyd in Minnesota, calls for defunding the police have pulled the heartstrings of both sides of the fight. Those for defunding want to see city monies shifted from police agencies and instead to services that address issues like mental health, homelessness and drug abuse. Those against defunding say it will take officers off the streets, paving the way for more crime and higher response times.
In June, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association said the Phoenix Police Department is not adequately staffed to provide service to a population of around 1.7 million people scattered across nearly 530 square miles.
“Under our current staffing, which is still more than 200 sworn officers less than the City Manager’s 2018 hiring goal of 3,125, the community suffers twice,” PLEA stated. “First, when response times are delayed when calling the police and second, when detectives who conduct follow-up investigation are buried with unmanageable caseloads.”