Public safety dominated the 2016 mayoral campaign.
Mayor Brand stated a goal of 1,000 officers on multiple occasions on the campaign trail and wants to get there by the end of his term.
In his recently released 2017-2018 budget proposal, Brand suggested adding funding for 21 new sworn officers. This move has been hailed by public safety proponents as a step in the right direction, with Chief of Police Jerry Dyer saying that it will be “good for the citizens of Fresno throughout.”
“This increase in sworn staffing to 825 will be the highest staffing level in nearly ten years,” Brand claimed in his budget press conference Tuesday (May 23).
GV Wire decided to investigate how many police officers are needed to keep Fresno safe?
Budgeting for more cops is one thing, but recruiting power also plays a key role in how many police are on the force.
Even with money for more officers, Fresno is having a hard time with recruiting them. Since 2016, Fresno has had funding available for up to 804 officers, yet they continue to hover around 760 on staff.
Damon Kurtz, president of the Fresno Police Officers Association, explained that many potential recruits are choosing to go elsewhere.
“I think first it’s about putting together an attractive compensation package for these officers that is comparable, at least, to the surrounding areas. It’s the largest organization in the Central Valley and their package should reflect that,” Kurtz said.
On one hand, the difficulty could be a result of discrepancies in salary. Fresno’s base-salary officers make approximately $10,000 less than neighboring Clovis officers and their salaries are lower than a number of other cities with similar population sizes, including Stockton and Sacramento.
Kurtz argued that, in such a competitive employment market, Fresno needs to take steps to improve. Along those lines, he mentioned a staggering figure: that Fresno PD loses an average of 4 to 6 officers per month to retirement or outflow.
However, with more officers on the way under the proposed budget, the city hopes to continue to reverse the trend of poor retention and Great Recession cuts.
From a pre-recession peak of 827 sworn officers in 2009, Fresno reached a low of 701 officers in 2013 and still sat at 702 in 2015. 2016 showed a significant rebound, with the force reaching 740 officers, and the recovery continued this year, with 760 officers on hand prior to Mayor Brand’s proposal.
Still, recent FBI data shows that, among the top five most populous cities in California, Fresno ranks last in the number of officers per capita with 1.3.
In seeing all this emphasis on adding police, we had to ask: is there a tangible connection between the size of the police force and the crime rates in a city?
Kurtz cites an FBI figure that shows two officers per 1,000 residents as the ideal number. Following this logic, Fresno would employ 1,031 officers.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police tell a different story. A statement released by the organization warns that police per capita isn’t the best metric to evaluate staffing changes.
Cuts to the Fresno Police Department came at the same time as the economic crash. However, according to a 2012 Stanford report, crime has continued on a general trend of decline, even during the recession, on a global scale.
Scholars have cited both “target hardening” (including better home security and the proliferation of cell phones) and improving subjective economic conditions.
Some are looking well beyond unemployment rates, showing how factors such as consumer confidence help explain rates of robbery and burglary. Others point to the short-term preventative effects of high incarceration rates, though they accept that punishment alone cannot explain the crime decline.
Fresno was no different and also saw a general drop in crime rates. In the same period that Fresno’s force faced cuts, violent crime decreased in every year since 2009, apart from a recent spike in 2015 and 2016. Property crime surged initially, but then declined in 2013 and ’14, saw a slight uptick in 2015, but saw its lowest figure since 2009 in 2016.
Some police leaders, politicians, and others believe the recent increase in crime is a result of Propositions 47 and 57, which reduce the punishment for certain crimes and simultaneously speed up release times for nonviolent offenders.
Kurtz believes more police would serve as a deterrent for more criminal activity. He argues that a more visible presence could help offset the effects of Props 47 and 57, as well as AB 109, which transfers new inmates designated for state prison to county jails instead.
“It doesn’t really make sense for us to try to catch somebody in the act knowing they’re not going to go to jail. It probably makes more sense to have more officers out there to deter them from committing the crime in the first place,” said Kurtz.
A UC Berkeley study from 2012 seems to confirm Kurtz’ hypothesis. Its authors found that, for every dollar spent on police, $1.60 is reduced in victimization costs, proving that police officers are a wise investment. In fact, the study showed that, on the community level, police provide a greater return on investment for safety than other personal precautions like home security systems.
So, with the potential benefits of more police apparent, how does Fresno create an environment that is more inviting for new recruits and a culture that retains them?
Both Brand and Kurtz agree that the way to stay competitive is through improving the city’s economic health.
“The only way I can [reach the goal of 1,000] is to increase the economic base of Fresno,” said Brand.
Kurtz claimed that new businesses will create an environment which will draw more officers.
When pressed further on the feasibility of reaching 1,000 officers sometime soon, Kurtz had his doubts:
“I am willing to bet you right now that is not going to happen.”
Drew Phelps contributed to this report.
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Contact David Taub
Phone: 559-492-4037 / e-mail
This story was not subject to the approval of Granville Homes.
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