When people call 9-1-1 to report a crime, they often take it for granted a Newton police officer will be able to respond to the situation right away. However, Newton Police Chief Jim Daily reports while the city’s population has increased in the past decade, police department staffing levels have remained relatively flat.
He said public safety could be compromised without additional officers to patrol the streets. Understaffing is especially critical during a major crime or severe injury accident — the type of events that tax resources.
“We are one major incident away from being too few people most of the time,” he said. “… We find ourselves in that critical position most of the time on day shift.”
According to a report prepared by Sgt. Bryan Hall, in 2000 the city of Newton had 9.6 square miles and a population of 17,190. In 2013, the city now has 14.27 square miles, and population jumped to 19,250. During that same time, calls for service to the police department have almost doubled, from about 26,000 in 2002 to about 42,000 in 2012. Although Daily said every one of those calls may not result in an officer having to write up a report, each one requires a response of some kind, whether an officer goes to a scene or provides information.
Hall's report also indicated Newton police department staffing seems to be behind the levels for other cities of a similar population size in this region. In 2011, Newton had 38 police employees, including 33 officers. By contrast, Derby (pop. 22,299) had 52 police employees, including 42 officers; Liberal (pop. 20,655) had 55 police employees, including 40 officers; and Prairie Village (pop. 21,583) had 56 police employees, including 43 officers. Of the four cities, Newton had the highest level of violent crimes in 2011 — 104 offenses — compared to Derby’s 54, Liberal’s 59, and Prairie Village’s 24.
Daily said the department’s minimal current staffing levels can experience even more strain if an officer is injured during training or in the line of duty, and has to take time off.
At optimum staffing levels (three patrol officers, a corporal and a sergeant), the squad can respond to these calls at one time: four non-priority calls (minor reports not “in-progress); or one to two priority calls (“in-progress” criminal calls or motor vehicle accidents); or one major call (high-level crime or severe injury accident).
If the department is down one staff member (targeted minimum staffing), the squad’s response ability drops to three non-priority calls; or one each priority call and non-priority call); or initial response to one major call, with additional assets possibly needing to be called in. If the department is down two staff members (emergency minimum staffing), the response ability drops still further, to two non-priority calls; one priority call; or initial response to one major call, with additional assets needed immediately.
During the day shift from 2009 to 2013, the staff had to operate at emergency levels about 40 percent of the time, and targeted minimum 50 percent of the time. Daily said staff sometimes is called in to work overtime on the night shift, the time most crimes occur, but the department still was at the targeted minimum level about 50 percent of the time at night from 2009 to 2013.
At Friday’s Newton City Commission budget work session, Daily requested an additional police officer position for the 2014 budget year. The position would cost about $38,613 in salary and $13,515 in benefits.
Daily encouraged commissioners to consider increasing police department staff to protect the safety of the community and of the officers. He wants the department to have enough time to be proactive to deter crime, rather than simply react when crime occurs.
“We try to keep our officers out of the office, so they can be seen, and be more proactive,” he said.