Cop to it 

Credit: Shannon Cornman

That
push comes in the wake of the city’s 99 homicides last year, an
increase of 41 compared to a total of 58 in 2011 and 56 the year before.

And
while it’s too soon to read too much into that jump, violent crime does
appear to be in an upward trend, according to Oklahoma City police.

Despite
substantial population growth in the city, there are only 34 more
police uniform positions today than there were in 1995. John George,
president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, has called for city
leaders to add as many as 250 officers.

Last
year, Oklahoma City Council voted to add 33 new police uniform
positions, partially with $1.3 million in projected surplus funds, the
first major increase to the police force in nearly two decades.

Nevertheless,
the ratio of police positions to citizens is around 1.8 officers per
1,000 people. That’s less than the 2.1 or 2.2 per 1,000 of Oklahoma
City’s peer cities, according to Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty.

Murder in the city
Police figures indicate that violent crimes against people have risen from 4,299 cases in 2006 to 5,144 in 2011.

“Oklahoma
City’s become more of a destination point,” Citty said. “We’ve got a
lot more here to do on weekends and evenings. You have a lot more people
— not just the population we have, but people coming in from outside.”

While
some homicides, such as those domestic in nature, are hard to prevent
through stepped-up police presence, Citty said that other categories,
such as gang-related murders, can be impacted through tougher
enforcement and more police.

Homicides in the gang violence category were the largest driver of last year’s increase, followed by robbery homicides.

City
Manager Jim Couch said it’s possible that new police will be added in
next year’s budget. However, he is currently calling for a 1 percent cut
to most municipal departments because expenditures are projected to
slightly outpace revenue.

The
budget numbers are very preliminary, so exact numbers for department
budgets or whether there will be an increase to the force — much less
what such an increase would look like — are still to be determined.

“We’ve
got a great police department,” Couch said. “They’re well equipped,
well trained, well compensated. It’s a pretty impressive department.
Could we do with more? Sure.”

Police Chief Bill Citty
Credit: Shannon Cornman

 

Finding balance
The
city’s first budget workshop is Feb. 12. Some on the city council have
expressed interest in creating around 40 new positions but such a
commitment may force cuts in other areas, many of which — including code
enforcement, fire and street lights — also influence public safety.

“It’s a matter of priorities and choices for [the] council,” Couch said.

Meanwhile, George is urging the city to add around 50 new positions per year for five years.

“We wholeheartedly ... need it,” he said. “We’re woefully understaffed.”

Manpower
levels were not to the level they should have been prior to the 2008
recession, said George, adding that a subsequent two-year hiring freeze
only hobbled staffing levels further.

In
addition, because of the growth the city has seen, the department has
had to create special units that are necessary but inevitably leave
fewer patrol officers available for 911 responses.

Moreover,
those special units mean fewer resources for proactive police work.
Instead, patrol officers are running from call to call to keep up with
reactive needs.

George
said momentum for the addition of new positions is good, noting that
the FOP has been meeting with city council members on the matter.

Citty said the city council is obviously concerned about public safety.

“As
a result of that, they have a lot of needs,” he said. “There’s a lot of
public service needs besides law enforcement, so how do they spend
those dollars?”

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