Monday, August 26, 2019

Media, unions hoped Dallas police staffing study would recommend more cops; instead it said 'manage your cops better'

The Dallas Morning News reported on a new staffing study for the Dallas Police Department prepared by KPMG. But the story is so focused on promoting the paper's ongoing agenda of encouraging the city to hire more officers, the coverage missed the forest while searching for a missing tree: they wanted the report to say how many additional officers the agency should hire, and KPMG failed to take the bait.

KPMG did identify DPD needs that could require more staff, but they suggested that staffing re-alignments and adjustment of strategies, tactics, and priorities could free up that capacity in lieu of the city hiring more officers. That thinking didn't make it into the Morning News story, even though it's the central reasoning behind the recommendations. Instead, the reporters scoured the 400-page report for hints at how many officers should be hired then called around to ask people if they thought the consultants should have given a hard number.

Indeed, the local police union just pretended the consultants had recommended hiring more officers and repeated the demand that a hard number be recommended for new hires:
Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, said he still hopes to hear an estimated number from top brass early next week. 
“What’s our goal? Even if it’s a broad goal,” Mata said. “I don’t think it’s healthy to just say we need more. There has to be a target or at least a range.”
In fact, KPMG recommended hiring a number of civilian positions as a higher priority than increasing patrol staff. Those were:
  • Efficiency specialists
  • Data science and optimization experts
  • Technologists
  • Change management specialists
  • Project managers
They also recommended hiring civilian "investigations technicians," "crime analysts," "community support officers," and admin staff to support the Investigations division instead of just adding more cops.

KPMG argued that DPD brass should spend time re-organizing and re-prioritizing patrol functions to free up officer capacity, then evaluate how many officers should be hired when that process is finished. Right now, they said, the agency is completely reactive, with little in the way of a strategic planning process:
Based on our observations and interviews conducted over six months, it is evident that the DPD lacks a clear strategy and is more reactive to the issues of the day, rather than working towards a common long-term goal. While DPD has strategic priorities these have not been translated into a strategic plan that can drive action. This is particularly evident at the Patrol officer level, where staff appear unclear of the overall strategic direction and mission for the department as they receive conflicting direction from the department as to what the priority is, either response times or crime fighting.  
This is also apparent with respect to the Investigations Bureau, which lacks a clear crime strategy, which should be linked to the overall Department strategy that would allow for a flow down staffing model from priorities to execution. Staffing decisions are therefore made periodically and reactively. The DPD responds to both attrition of staff and the daily operational disruptions. The ideal allocation model would be based on a strategic crime reduction model, whereby staff is aligned by priority and actual workload and utilize data and intelligence to inform decision-making. The DPD has considerable work to do in order to achieve this ideal state in the Investigations Bureau. 
When staffing decisions are being made in a haphazard and reactive fashion, simply hiring more officers isn't a solution. The consultants recognized that, even if the Morning News and the police union can't quite accept it. DPD has some work to do before they could effectively use those staff, and the most important, immediate hiring needed involves civilian functions, not patrol officers.

Another interesting critique involved the agency's use of Compstat crime mapping software, which the consultants said contributes to the reactive nature of Dallas policing:
Recent research evidence suggests that Compstat is more likely to generate reactive crime control responses rather than more creative problem-solving responses designed to address the conditions that cause crime problems to recur (Dabney, 2010; Weisburd et al., 2003). In order to be effective the Police Foundation identified six key elements of Compstat that form a comprehensive approach for mobilizing police agencies to identify, analyze, and solve public safety problems: mission clarification; internal accountability; geographic organization of command; organizational flexibility; data-driven problem identification and assessment; and innovative problem solving (Weisburd et al., 2003). When compared to non-Compstat police departments, police departments that use Compstat have been found to be more likely to implement traditional crime control strategies rather than community problem-solving strategies to address crime problems (Weisburd et al., 2003). Willis, Mastrofski, and Kochel (2010) suggested a new form of Compstat that supports collective problem-solving, maintains accountability, and more fully embraces community policing. They observed that this may require diminishing the formality of the chain of command in crime control meetings to support more collaborative problem solving by a wider range of meeting participants. 
With this in mind and considering the recent increase in crime within Dallas, DPD may consider reviewing their current Compstat process to help ensure that the focus is not on reporting of statistics and reactive measures but considers proactive problem-solving initiatives so that the Compstat meetings add value towards the department’s crime strategy and are a productive use of time for all parties involved. 
The Dispatch functions in DPD similarly need to be rethought, say the consultants. Currently, every call gets the same priority. KPMG thinks they should stop assigning the first available officer, which takes cops off their beats and has them running around all over the city. Instead, they should enforce "beat integrity" and send the first-available patrol officer from that area. The wasted officer time driving around is one of the sources of freed up capacity the consultants hope to capitalize on to offset needs for additional hiring.

KPMG also praised the pilot program in Dallas which sends EMS and mental-health professionals as the lead responding to mental-health calls, using officers only for security. (The Austin City Council presently is considering whether to fund a similar pilot.) Not only does that lessen demand for uniformed officers, the consultants also praised the number of money saving hospital and jail diversions:
While DPD is making efforts in this area for example the establishment of the Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team (RIGHT) Care pilot program, which is a multidisciplinary team composed of a law enforcement officer with mental health training, a paramedic, and a behavioral health clinician, to answer mental health–related calls for service. This team is able to quickly mobilize and respond to people experiencing a behavioral health crisis in the community to divert people with complex health needs related to serious mental illness (SMI), when appropriate, from jail and emergency departments in order to decrease recidivism rates, better facilitate recovery, and more appropriately allocate community resources. Within the first year of the pilot the team affected 638 hospital diversions and 316 jail diversions.
In perhaps their most important and under-appreciated finding, Dallas PD has dramatically under-invested in civilian staffing across the board, the consultants concluded, and focused budget cuts on civilian an non-sworn positions instead of patrol. (That's one of the reasons the consultants recommended a clutch of civilian spots be filled first, before needs for additional police officers are assessed.) They wrote:
While the scope of the DPD staffing analyses was limited to the Patrol and Investigation Bureaus there were a number of opportunities identified to increase the use of civilian or non-sworn staffing within the Department. The DPD could benefit from the force-mix review of all functions within the department to help ensure that the right positions, with the right skills are performing the right roles. It was noted by DPD staff and leadership that during budget cuts the first positions to be unfunded are the civilian and non-sworn positions, however this can only serve to increase the burden on sworn staff and shift their focus from their core tasks.
Civilian staffing accounts for just 16 percent of total DPD staffing as of March 2019. When compared to the comparison cohort, this size of Dallas’s civilian workforce is the third smallest, with Dallas ranking ninth out of twelve agencies as civilians comprised only 17 percent of the workforce in 2017. As discussed in detail in the patrol report and illustrated in the graphic on the following page, the project team’s review of comparison agencies found that on average, 24 percent of their workforces were civilian staff.
Finally, DPD record keeping is such that some management evaluations couldn't be performed. The consultants gave detailed recommendations for improvements to record keeping, both practices and data points gathered, that they say will enable smarter decisions about how to deploy staff going forward. They don't say it, but one of Grits' favorite phrases comes to mind, here: You can't manage what you can't measure.

I don't understand why the Dallas Morning News feels the need to promote this hire-more-officers meme they've been hammering away at recently, but this report wasn't the platform on which to promote that narrative. The consultants didn't conclude that Dallas needs more cops, they said the agency needs to be better managed and re-organized.

That may not be the message Mike Mata and his local media bandwagon want to hear, but this study represents an opportunity for the Dallas press and, more importantly, local government, to pivot away from the simplistic meme that more cops are the only possible solution to crime. I hope they take it.

MORE: See DMN coverage of the city council briefing, and here's a DMN staff editorial struggling to come to grips with the fact that the consultants' analysis and recommendations fly in the face all prior DMN reporting and analysis on the topic. The editorial said the report's guidance was "sometimes confusing," but I didn't think so. They simply focused on more important management questions, whereas the Morning News' coverage has tried to boil down police-management issues to "how many more officers should we hire?," choosing between options of "a lot more" and "a whole lot more." The consultants showed that was a false choice that ignored pivotal issues facing the department that prevent more effective crime fighting. Hiring more officers before those problems are addressed puts the cart before the horse. At the briefing, "KPMG consultants repeatedly told city officials that there were strategic issues that needed to be addressed within the department before talking about overall department staffing numbers," the paper reported. IMO, any "confusion" stemmed from the News' wrong-headed coverage prior to the report's release. Grits thought the recommendations were quite clear and well-founded.


Gadfly said...

Grits? Screw the Snooze. Jim Schutze will surely boil both its ass and that of the Dallas PD when he writes something at the Dallas Observer. (Heading there to check.)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Not to change the subject any but simply to give my opinion: Government Employees such as Judges, Prosecutors, Defenders and ect. should not be allowed to be in a Union. My reason is that taxpayers pay their wages and hold their Oath of Office.

Anonymous said...

So let's dig further into this bail reform crap.....where is the money coming from? Who funds the free bail that are giving on felony offenses? Misdemeanor offenses? That's right.......we do, the taxpayer and the exclusive Harvey fund. Pathetic that $$$$$$ is used to prioritize criminals, but Harvey survivors are still struggling. I guess a criminal is worth more than a tax-paying citizen. And yes, free bail is being given to felony offenders also, but no one is talking about it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@11:22, you're incredibly confused. If bail is not required, NO ONE has to pay it. It's not like the government pays itself when they stop making defendants do it. I don't think you actually understand what bail is or what bail bondsmen do in real life.

Anonymous said...

"They also recommended hiring civilian "investigations technicians," "crime analysts," "community support officers," and admin staff to support the Investigations division instead of just adding more cops."

Using Houston as an example, if the investigation technicians are the crime lab staffers that gather evidence at crime scenes or those who process such evidence, hopefully Dallas will adopt a manner to hire better educated and better experienced individuals. Recent cases point out to where such staffers leave tremendous amounts of physical evidence and do a poor job processing it overall, the result of hiring the cheapest staff they can find. Granted, there were some issues with the previous practice of using officers in the roles but as it was mandated as a long term assignment, those officers were better trained and held to higher standards. These days, the turnover is so bad that as the staffers gain a little experience, they leave for better compensating jobs elsewhere.

"The Dispatch functions in DPD similarly need to be rethought, say the consultants. Currently, every call gets the same priority. KPMG thinks they should stop assigning the first available officer, which takes cops off their beats and has them running around all over the city. Instead, they should enforce "beat integrity" and send the first-available patrol officer from that area. The wasted officer time driving around is one of the sources of freed up capacity the consultants hope to capitalize on to offset needs for additional hiring."

It is foolish to lack a prioritization program as relatively few calls are true emergencies and many more can simply wait until peak service times are over. Again using Houston as a guide, assigning more serious calls for service a higher number, officers can be directed to the life threatening calls over delayed reports and loud noise calls. But the problem with a beat integrity system is that manpower is not always assigned to cover each beat or at least not each beat equally, so demanding an officer remain in a beat when a serious call for service is holding a few streets away in another beat can lead to dire consequences.

In general though, it always makes more sense to scrub the budget or prioritize existing manpower before considering hiring more and if the primary duties of a position do not require a classified officer at far greater expense, say for clerical work or data related jobs, hiring a civilian for typically half the cost is a wiser use of funds, even if some positions might have to be altered a bit to accommodate for the switch. On a political scale, it will always be easier to layoff civilians workers due to the fallout of perceptions regarding cutting fire or policemen, but fiscally you can get more bang for the buck using civilians for appropriate positions.