U.S. police departments are streamlining patrols, reducing training and cutting back on some preventative programs as their budgets fall victim to the struggling economy.The Plano, TX Police Department was one of the examples cited - they're leaving vacant officer positions unfilled to save money.
Many police chiefs are warning deeper cuts may be coming. ...
A poll of 200 departments during the summer by the Police Executive Research Forum, which studies law enforcement trends, reported 39 percent of respondents said their operating budgets were cut because of the economy and 43 percent said the faltering economy had affected their ability to deliver services.
This problem will likely only get worse, but there are two easy fixes Texas departments can implement to keep more officers on the street during the coming economic crunch:
First, more departments should embrace new discretion granted by the Legislature last year to give citations instead of arresting for low-level misdemeanors. In Austin, for example, 37% of all arrestees entering jail are there on charges for which they could have received a citation. That takes officers off the street to handle petty offenses and effectively reduces the number of cops on patrol.
In addition, cities could greatly increase their police coverage by requiring private security companies to do "verified response" before sending officers to react to alarms. As many as 99% of alarm calls are false alarms, and even when a crime did occur, typically the offender is long gone by the time police get there.
In some jurisdictions like Plano and Richardson, police spend more time responding to false burglar alarms than any other departmental function. Plano PD in particular spends about 10% of its officers' time annually responding to false alarms.
So implementing verified response would be the equivalent of increasing the size of their police force by as much as 10%, while using citations for low-level offenses would keep an even greater proportion of officers out on the street to perform more important tasks.
There's little doubt the economic downturn will affect law enforcement agencies' ability to hire more officers in the near future, so it's more critical than ever that officials use police resources wisely. These two ideas would supplement police coverage at no cost to the taxpayers. In fact, both would save taxpayers money while putting more cops on the street - truly a win-win scenario.