How Do You Really Know How Many Cops You Need?

The key is to know exactly which elements you need, how to scrutinize and clean that data, how to organize it, and most importantly how to apply it.

Law enforcement is now a data-driven profession, forcing agencies to provide statistically-defensible articulation for how many patrol officers are needed to maintain or reach specific goals such as emergency response times or backup unit availability.

This is quickly becoming a hot-button issue, and we are witnessing a collision between politics and demand. If demand dictates more officers, is the area then being over-policed? There is a struggle between officer safety and budgets, and sometimes there simply is no more money to spend. Some officers working the street may feel their safety is being disregarded and they are being taken for granted while others may think everything is great. That’s the byproduct of an imbalanced workload. Then there’s the issue of minimum staffing. An ambiguous number that becomes cemented in the agency culture. We can all agree that there needs to be a certain number of officers on duty, but what is the basis for that number? Is it by shift? Is it by the hour, so the minimum can be met by different shifts?

Even if an agency had all of the officers they’re allocated, there could still be an imbalance in the workload. Officers could struggle to keep up during certain hours while at other hours officers don’t run call-to-call. That’s the byproduct of an inefficient schedule. It’s nearly impossible to consider all of these factors and come up with a patrol schedule and deployment plan that feels perfect for everyone. So, how do we find a defensible and agreeable plan to move forward? What is the best way?

The answer lies in the first paragraph of this blog post…. a DATA-DRIVEN solution. Upfront, everyone needs to know that they won’t get exactly what they want. This means the community, the officers, the command staff, the purse-string holders, and anyone else who thinks they know the right answer.

It’s hard to argue with numbers and when those numbers are shown to everyone, they become fact. It’s important to be transparent in how these numbers were derived. Once, during my years as an analyst, there was a neighborhood that felt neglected by the police department. They claimed they never saw the police patrol their neighborhood, even as they had high crime and drive-by shootings every weekend. Wow, I thought, we’ve really dropped the ball with these guys. Guess I better see what they’re talking about. I did my analyst thing, pulled the data, cleaned the data, and gathered additional data just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Where was this high crime they spoke of? Drive-by shootings, surely we’d have records? The data was succinct. Low crime, and no drive-by shootings. Did they have crime, sure, but it was minimal in comparison to other neighborhoods. We sympathized with their perception that they were neglected by the police. But, when we showed them (with DATA) that we really need to spend our time in the neighborhoods that had higher crime and we couldn’t justify pulling cops from high crime areas where they are needed more, they actually agreed! They didn’t come away with what they wanted but were satisfied with the reason why.

The same solution applies to patrol staffing. There’s a plethora of data available to do this, specifically within CAD. The key is to know exactly which elements you need, how to scrutinize and clean that data, how to organize it, and most importantly how to apply it.

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The Need to Recalibrate Staffing as Attrition Rises and Recruits Dwindle

Assuming there was no other option, many agencies moved to 12-hour patrol shifts, thinking that was the only way to maintain minimum, or close to minimum, staffing levels.

To say that workloads have changed for patrol officers in the recent past is an understatement. For some, pandemic shutdowns altered which calls officers respond to in-person and temporarily decreased the day-to-day workload. Then more serious resource-intensive calls related to violent crime started creeping up. When the shutdowns lifted, society was anxious to get moving again. As all of this happened, law enforcement officers reevaluated their career choice and began leaving in droves. Agencies suddenly found their patrol ranks dangerously short-staffed.

Many responded by disbanding specialized units, pulling detectives out of investigations, and sending all warm bodies to cover patrol shifts. Assuming there was no other option, many agencies moved to 12-hour patrol shifts, thinking that was the only way to maintain minimum, or close to minimum, staffing levels.

48 officers on a 12-Hour schedule

It may seem like an intuitive move. However, inefficiencies can hide in 12-hour shift schedules. Either there is no overlap between shifts and officers frequently get held over, or, if there are overlapping cover shifts, then too many hours become overstaffed.

The inefficiency of a 12-Hour schedule

Recruiting woes were being felt by law enforcement agencies even before the pandemic hit. Now recruiting is even more difficult and agencies are upping their game, offering hefty monetary incentives to attract the pale number of applicants.

Realistically, it will be a long while before recruiting catches up with attrition, if it ever does at all. In the meantime, robbing Peter to pay Paul is not sustainable. There’s a need for specialized units, now probably more than ever, and there has to be personnel dedicated to investigating and closing cases. Agencies need to ask themselves if they’re running patrol operations as efficiently as possible. Besides pulling bodies from other areas, what can agencies do to better staff patrol? The answer is to look at their SCHEDULE. Examining how patrol officers are deployed can uncover inefficiencies. By capitalizing on better deployment configurations, agencies can find a better fit between the number of officers they have and the workload their community demands.

48 officers on a 10-Hour schedule
More efficient 10-Hour schedule

Creating, changing, altering and adopting a patrol schedule requires computations on vast amounts of data. Utilizing this data, Corona Solutions harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to provide service projections based upon any given schedule. Deploy PlusTM from Corona Solutions provides detailed insight into patrol workload and the Deploy application. Visit our website to see how the value of this platform can work for your agency.

Maintaining Officer Safety in the Midst of Budget Cuts

Police budgets were fragile before nationwide calls to Defund the Police became loud and impossible for government leaders to ignore. This, along with the economic downturn due to COVID-19, is forcing police agencies to do more with less. So how do you maintain officer safety with the availability of backup assistance while your staffing numbers decrease?

Police budgets were fragile before nationwide calls to Defund the Police became loud and impossible for government leaders to ignore. The economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 crisis hit local budgets hard and fast. Law enforcement agencies were already on track to lose money they thought the economy would provide. Money they were planning to use for hiring more officers and increasing pay amongst other things. Those plans fell apart when the Safer-at-Home orders began and the revenue needed to supply those funds dried up. Now the push to decrease police budgets and divert the funding away from law enforcement is being thrust upon city and county leaders. This is forcing law enforcement to run much leaner than they have in the past.

Most law enforcement agencies were placed on a hiring freeze when the COVID-19 pandemic started, impacting local budgets. Now, those vacancies have become permanent, at least for the foreseeable future. Vacancies in the sworn contingent of law enforcement agencies are immediately felt in patrol operations. Patrol is where new police officer hires are predominantly placed, filling holes created by attrition and the cascade of promotions and reassignments that occur when tenured officers depart.

Patrol operations not only feel the impact of short staffing before other parts of the agency do, but they also are most affected by officer safety matters. Having officers available to respond, when you need them the most, is paramount to officer safety.

So, how do you ensure availability to maintain officer safety and meet the workload demands of your community while your staffing number decreases?

To accomplish this you must employ an evidence-based approach, one that illustrates exactly what the impact of short staffing will have to your patrol operations. Using a data-driven process not only allows you to see exactly when officer safety vulnerability occurs, but it also allows you to transparently define those risks for stakeholders.

Below, an evidence-based approach is used to determine the number of patrol officers needed to secure officer safety. In this example, the agency size and workload dictate that four officers should always be available for backup assistance if needed. For this agency, 105 patrol officers are needed across the schedule to meet that requirement. However, if the agency only has 95 patrol officers to deploy across the schedule due to budget cuts, then the security of having four officers available for backup assistance decreases to only 80% of the time. With this data, stakeholders can make informed decisions with the knowledge of the associated risks with reduced staffing numbers

At the same time, the agency can see what happens to their response time goal by reducing their patrol staff. In this example, if the agency wanted to attain an average response time of 7.5 minutes to emergency calls 75% of the time, they would need 116 patrol officers. If the agency only had 95 officers, as in the above example, they would only be able to attain a 7.5 minute response time average to emergency calls 30% of the time. Again, this provides the agency, stakeholders, and community a transparent, data-driven method to evaluate the effects of reduced staffing on service expectations.

Sample Graphs from Deploy Plus depicting Operational Goal requirements

Whether it’s due to direct budget cuts or redirecting funds, police agencies will need to figure out how to safely deploy and provide effective services with leaner resources. Using data to drive deployment decisions is smart policing.

The Deploy Plus platform by Corona Solutions is the most economical way for agencies to provide this level of transparency and high-level, evidence-based decision making. Contact us today to find out how your agency can adequately staff for officer safety in the midst of budget cuts.