By 2023, the Northglenn Police Department hopes to have a dozen more sworn officers, bringing the total number to 80 and creating a level of service the chief has been longing to return. But first, …
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By 2023, the Northglenn Police Department hopes to have a dozen more sworn officers, bringing the total number to 80 and creating a level of service the chief has been longing to return.
But first, the police department will start by asking for two additional officers in the 2019 budget. That’s the proposal the city council saw at a Sept. 17 study session.
“The way to reduce crime and reduce the fear of crime is a proactive approach, not reactive,” Police Chief Jim May said in an interview. “Currently, I think, we’re reacting to the calls for service.”
May and Renae Lehr, crime analyst and public information officer, have studied workload of patrol hours and other required duties along with the department’s goals of proactive, community policing while comparing statistics with similar cities to help determine the staffing needs for the police department.
They said it’s not as simple as a per capita comparison or population threshold.
“It gives you a benchmark,” May explained about why per capita is not an apples-to-apples comparison. “Are you in the ballpark?”
For example, he said having 40,000 residents does not necessarily create a need for a certain number of officers, but square mileage and crime rate — among other factors like density — influence the staffing levels.
Take Wheat Ridge, which has about 31,000 residents, according to the latest U.S. Census estimate, and is about 9.61 square miles. The fellow Denver suburb has 78 sworn officers, according to data collected by the Northglenn Police Department. Compare that to Northglenn, which has 68 sworn officers, to serve nearly 40,000 residents in about 7.45 square miles.
But Wheat Ridge had 4,747 property crimes per 100,000 population compared to Northglenn’s 3,392 property crimes by the same measure, according to data collected by Northglenn from the FBI crime reporting.
Smaller staff, more work
Like many businesses and governmental agencies, the Northglenn Police Department had to get lean when the recession hit. May recalled more than 70 officers working for NPD in the early 2000s.
In 2008, there were 70 sworn officers on staff, according to records provided by Lehr. Since 2012, the police department has averaged just 66 until it increased to 68 three years ago.
“I’m very proud of my officers, even as short as we’ve been over the years, they still go above and beyond,” May said. “We’re still delivering a great service, but it could be even better.”
Officers’ workload has increased over the years not just because of a reduced staff, but added state mandates. The half dozen marijuana dispensaries require inspections from the police department and draw calls for service, May said.
The opioid epidemic creates incidents — incidents that require more documentation and paperwork for reporting to the state. Arrests at schools and officer-involved shootings also require more state reporting than they used to.
Homelessness is another issue. Since 2010, the number of cases with an address showing “transient or homeless” has tripled, Lehr said.
In addition to more calls related to that, if there is abandoned property then an officer has to collect it and note every item for inventory in case someone comes to claim it within 30 days.
“There could be hundreds of items and it takes hours to go through and inventory those items,” May said.
One area that May wants to beef up is traffic enforcement. He said lack of that is a public safety concern and a subject in which he receives many complaints.
“That’s a primary function of police services,” May said.
More officers dedicated to traffic will free up others to patrol and respond to calls for service.
In survey seven other agencies in the area, just one — Brighton — besides Northglenn doesn’t have a dedicated traffic unit.
While incident report decreased significantly last year compared to the two previous years, it’s still an increase over 2012 and 2013.
The calls for service bog down officers from performing traffic patrol and being proactive. So much so that May has eliminated community programs including prescription drug take back, senior police academy and spouse academy. The Marketplace Initiative is an effort that has netted 40 to 50 arrests from Black Friday through Christmas annually but is no longer viable.
Programs that have been reduced include one citizen’s academy per year instead of two and one teen academy every other year. Neighborhood Watch used to have 100 participating groups and is now down to about two dozen, according to May.
He said education and community efforts for crime prevention make the policing easier.
“It doesn’t matter where you live, how much money you live, everyone should have a certain quality of life,” May said. “I think when we have these different programs within the police department it balances a lot of stuff out.”
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