there is one recurring theme I have encountered in my research on this subject, and that is the size of a department's investigative force. While the public generally believes that more officers on patrol will deter crime, most of the studies show that more patrols have little effect on the overall crime rate. Like squeezing a closed tube of toothpaste, patrols may move the crime to different areas, but the total amount does not change much.The old school description of law enforcement duties is "trail 'em, nail 'em, and jail 'em." But between the drug war and the increasingly vast array of human behaviors criminalized by law, perhaps it's true that police departments have become overly infatuated with the "nail 'em and jail 'em" aspects of the job, underresourcing actual investigative staff, going after low hanging fruit instead of digging into the harder cases. That's particularly true on burglary, where clearance rates nearly everywhere are in the single digits just like in Houston. Lots of reports get taken, but I'm not sure many detective-hours end up getting spent on those cases.
What the criminologists say is much more effective is dramatically increasing the number of detectives investigating crimes. Take burglary for example. Last year, there were about 27,000 burglaries in the city. HPD made arrests in a paltry 1,900 cases, about 7 percent. That does not represent much deterrent, nor does it take many burglars out of action.
One of principal reasons the clearance rate for burglary is low is that few cases are actually investigated. One detective told me that about one in 20 is seriously investigated. However, that is hardly surprising considering that HPD only has about 1,100 officers in its investigative division, a number that has not changed significantly over the last decade. With about 140,000 Part I crimes being reported each year, each investigator gets a new case about every other day. Considering that the more serious cases, like murder, can tie up a team of investigators for months, it is easy to see how there is little time to work on a garden-variety burglary. A dramatic increase in investigative resources would likely yield much better results than turning out several hundred new rookie officers.
In addressing the crime issue, we do not need the same old worn-out cliches. If we are going to reallocate resources for public safety, there should be defined expectations as to what results that will yield and metrics in place to confirm the results. Simply putting more officers on patrol, without smart, innovative thinking, will do little good. So when the candidates for mayor and city council come to ask for your vote and tell you they are going to get tough on crime, ask them to get a little smarter instead.
Interesting perspective from Mr. King. I certainly agree that how police are deployed is just as if not much more important than how many there are.
As a corollary to his suggestion, if departments want to free up patrol resources to shift toward investigations, I'd recommend switching to "verified response" for private burglar alarms, since the vast, vast majority are false alarms. In a survey three years ago, the Texas House Law Enforcement Committee found that in some cities false alarms were the most common type of police service call - more frequent than things like 911 calls or traffic accidents - and in all surveyed jurisdictions it was in the top three. The rate of false alarms is 98-99%, and even when a crime occurred, usually the offender is long gone. If, say, ten percent of patrol officers' time is spent responding to false alarms and those duties are shifted to private alarm companies, that's manpower that could be shifted toward crime investigation without adding any new officers at all.