Oklahoma City has a serious shortage of police officers. Now is the time for city leaders to act. We've ignored this problem for far too long.
Oklahoma City is one of the largest urban areas in the United States, covering 606 square miles, which makes it geographically larger than Los Angeles or Houston. But the city's vast area is only one challenge. The population has grown by about 150,000 in the past 20 years but the Oklahoma City Police Department has had no increase in manpower. In fact, the city has fewer officers on patrol now than it did in 1992!
The average number of officers for the top 50 cities in population (Oklahoma City ranks 30th) is about 2.47 per 1,000 residents. Oklahoma City has about 1.7. Just to reach the national average, our force would need to grow to 1,462 officers. The city budget calls for just 1,076 police officers. But we have fewer than 1,000, including 38 recruits who recently graduated and will be in training for several more weeks.
Furthermore, those population numbers are based only on city residents. They don't include all the people who live outside the city but come here every day for work, shopping, sporting events and to attend school.
Many people are understandably upset that it takes so long for officers to respond to 911 calls. Nationwide, more than 1,000 people die each month because of slow 911 response times. In Oklahoma City, we're answering these type of calls in under 9 ½ minutes just 70 percent of the time. When seconds count, this is too long.
Oklahoma City can easily justify an additional 250 police officers. If we see this as an investment in our community, rather than as another expansion of tax-supported government, it will pay dividends in increased safety, crime reduction, quicker 911 response times and less hazard in traffic accidents.
We have an excellent police department. Our officers are professional, well-trained and highly committed to protecting our citizens. Police work is carried out around the clock and with no holidays. Just as criminals don't work solely from 9 to 5, neither can we. But we simply don't have enough officers to do the job.
Oklahoma City's leaders need to act — now. This investment would pay dividends in safer neighborhoods, less burnout among officers, reduced crime and a positive image for our business community. This is an investment we must make to ensure our safety and our future.
George is president of the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police.