Shoppers could help Oklahoma City resolve a debate over how much the police force should grow next year.
A report Friday said monthly sales tax collections were up 8 percent over the same time last year, more than double the projected increase.
Because sales tax is the single biggest source of revenue for day-to-day operations, and policing takes the largest single share of those general fund dollars, transactions that generate sales tax are key to keeping officers on city streets.
So if the city and police union were to speak with one voice, the message to residents might be, “Keep shopping.”
Policing dominated the discussion last week as the city council opened its 2014-15 budget hearings.
City Manager Jim Couch has proposed adding 28 positions, including 21 uniformed officers, to the police force in the budget year beginning July 1.
Last year, the council added 40 officers. Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee says he would like to add 40 more.
“My personal conviction is that providing for the safety of the citizens should the No. 1 goal of city government,” McAtee said in a phone interview.
Couch told McAtee at Tuesday’s budget hearing that he would work with him and “come up with a plan” to find the $850,000 needed to add 12 more positions to the police budget.
Fewer police in OKC
By some measures, police presence lags in Oklahoma City, a fact the Fraternal Order of Police has worked to keep front-and-center the past several years.
An analysis of FBI data published last week by Governing.com showed Oklahoma City had 16.8 officers per 10,000 residents in 2012, about average for cities with more than 50,000 residents but well below the ratio of police officers to citizens in many similar-sized cities.
Atlanta, smaller than Oklahoma City but the center of a metropolitan area five times the size, had 40.6 officers per 10,000 residents. Kansas City, Mo., had 27.4, Minneapolis had 21.8, and El Paso had 15.3.
Governing.com reported police presence varied greatly, driven by a range of factors including call volumes and municipal budgets.
One of Oklahoma City’s greatest challenges is policing a city of 621 square miles, among the country’s largest by land area.
Meg Hollis, a Michigan State University assistant professor who researches police staffing, told Governing.com that some jurisdictions base staffing decisions primarily on how they compare to peer cities. Hollis suggested a deeper analysis, including examination of call volume and the geographic distribution of requests over time.
Crime reports down
Under the latest update of Oklahoma City’s police manpower study, the department’s “desired” level of service — to assure uniformly quick response to the highest priority calls and provide opportunities for proactive crime-fighting — would bring police ranks up to roughly 22 officers per 10,000 residents, about in the middle of the comparable cities list.
Police officials say they’re seeing a drop in serious crime, with the number of aggravated assaults falling in 2013 to 3,296. That’s a drop of 13 percent from 2012 and the lowest total since 2007.
Building up the police force is an idea that’s been promoted by the police union and has won favor in community surveys. Public safety is the council’s top stated priority.
McAtee said the council’s ability to add more officers to the budget is constrained by training requirements — including the time it takes to move a recruit through the academy and through field work with a senior training officer — and by the money available when balanced against other needs within the $1.1 billion budget.
That’s where shopping comes in.
The city manager’s 2014-15 budget proposal is based on projected sales tax growth of 3.5 percent.
Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell suggested last week the city could start the year by adding 28 police positions while agreeing to revisit that number if sales tax collections are stronger by midyear. Greenwell said in an interview he was optimistic the city could “still achieve that goal of 40 new police officers.”
“I think it’s an idea that merits consideration,” McAtee said.
Growing the force
Adding 21 officers in fiscal 2014-15 would bring Oklahoma City’s authorized uniformed police ranks to 1,137.
Not all the positions are filled, and won’t be for some time.
By conducting two police academies every 14 to 16 months, and accounting for attrition and retirements, the police department can add about 40 officers per year.
The department has about 1,030 officers working the streets at the moment.
Couch, the city manager, said continued strong sales tax results would provide an opportunity to address police ranks “or some other things.”
McAtee said it comes down to meeting the training and budgeting challenges.
“How effective we are in resolving those constraints,” he said, “will determine our ability to accomplish our goal, which is getting more policemen protecting and serving our citizens.”
By the numbers
Oklahoma City had 16.8 police officers per 10,000 residents in 2012, about average for cities with more than 50,000 residents. Oklahoma City generally lags, though, when taking into account figures from cities with comparable populations and from other NBA towns. Here are some of those cities, with the number of officers per 10,000 residents:
• Cleveland 37.6
• Memphis, Tenn. 36.7
• New Orleans 35.0
• Milwaukee, Wis. 31.8
• Orlando 29.2
• Miami 25.4
• Columbus, Ohio 22.9
• Salt Lake City 22.1
• Charlotte, N.C. 21.2
• Seattle 20.6
• Austin, Texas 19.5
• Indianapolis 19.0
• Las Vegas 17.3
• Oklahoma City 16.8
• San Antonio 16.5
• Portland, Ore. 16.2
• Tulsa 19.6
• Lawton 17.3
• Midwest City 16.9
• Moore 14.3
• Norman 13.9
• Edmond 13.3
• Broken Arrow 12.0
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