Sunday, June 24, 2007

More UI Prez Links & How Many Police

June 24, 2007, 8:00 a.m.; 12:30 p.m. [times reflect additions to the entry -- for the benefit of those few individuals who check back occasionally during the day -- as well as reflecting the fact that what is called "life" occasionally interrupts blogging]

Wanted to complete the links to news stories about the UI Prez Search that I didn't get to yesterday. Virtually all from November through June are now somewhere on this blog.

There 's also some commentary, below, regarding the Press-Citizen's editorial about increasing the size of the Iowa City police department.

Yesterday's and today's UI prez search links:

Brian Morelli, "New UI president starts connecting with students; Mason becoming a Hawkeye," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

Brian Morelli, Fundraising Important Presidential Task," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

Duncan Stewart, "UI Presidential History: Dear President Mason," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

Russell Scott Valentino, "'A Person Who Can Unite Others, Motivate, Even Inspire Them,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

John Solow, "'Our Athletics Department is Run By People of Great Integrity,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

John C. Keller, "The Link Between Teaching, Research and Scholarly Missions," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007

Erin Jordan, "U of I head gets bonus if she stays for 5 years; Sally Mason's deferred compensation of $60,000 a year is in addition to her base salary of $450,000 per year,"
Des Moines Register, June 23, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Ripple effect; UI salary could mean pay bumps for other presidents in state," The Gazette, June 23, 2007, p. A1; Diane Heldt, "Open Search for UI President Gets an A," The Gazette, June 24, 2007, p. A1 (these stories may be found by going to The Gazette's main Web site and using drop down menus to find "06/23/2007" and "06/24/2007" and page "A1")

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"How many police officers does it take to . . ."

Yesterday the Press-Citizen editorialized "Iowa City Police Understaffed in Relation to Nation," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 23, 2007.

Let me make some things clear up front.

a. If we really need more police officers let's get them. I'm not opposed to raising taxes to do so, if necessary. But a City Government the size of that in Iowa City often contains people, practices and programs that could be run more efficiently -- and in the process often more effectively.

b. I like the police. My anticipated career when in junior high was in law enforcement. I helped organize, with some classmates, the "Johnson County Junior Bureau of Investigation." J. Edgar Hoover kindly sent us materials. We got old "wanted posters" from the Post Office, the Sheriff, and the Police Chief. A former FBI agent showed us how to make plaster casts of footprints. The first "book" I ever wrote was How to Classify Fingerprints. Our little group was permitted to attend the annual "Iowa Peace Officers' Short Course" -- and did very well on the exams.

c. My personal experiences with the police have been positive. I don't recall ever being given a ticket for anything more serious than overtime parking. But it's pretty easy to avoid speeding, and even parking, tickets when you put more miles on your bicycle each year than on your gas vehicle. So I don't take a lot of credit for that.

d. Like most of the subjects I write about, I claim no expertise as to this one either.

e. Moreover, I'm willing to work with the assumption that any ideas I can come up with have probably long been on the mind of our new Iowa City Police Chief, Sam Hargadine.

But, if not, he and others responsible for such things might want to consider the following -- many of which are beyond the control of our Police Department.

1. Less input, better output. There are retired admirals and generals who pointed out how cuts of as much as one-third of our defense budget would actually improve our national security and defense posture -- and that was years before they even needed to calculate the additional harm we're doing to our "homeland security" with the billions spent on our military operations in the Middle East. (See, e.g., Center for Defense Information.)

It's true of many governmental programs -- presumably including police protection.

It helps no one -- especially not tax payers -- to cut programs that are truly essential, not to mention programs that will return in savings later many times over what they cost today.

But it is not the case that "you get what you pay for" -- as Consumer Reports has been dramatically demonstrating for 70 years.

So what are some of those alternative approaches?

2. Task and Mission. What is it we're asking our police force to do? With regard to any given task, "Why?" Is it necessary for anyone to do it? If so, are police officers the best trained and efficient folks to call on?

Years ago, one of their tasks was to check for overtime parking and write up tickets. It was ultimately realized that we didn't need police officers -- well trained, armed and fully equipped, driving expensive, outfitted police cars -- to perform this function. It could be done just as adequately, and much cheaper, by others (especially given today's technology).

Here's another example of spending less and getting more. Cities like Iowa City, as well as others all across America, have experimented with at least some police officers on bicycles, or walking beats, as an alternative to their driving cars. It's both cheaper, and often more productive, as a way of integrating the police into neighborhoods.

Our department used to have, and I presume still does, a "community relations" program. Is there more that we could do on the front end (in our schools, among other things) to reduce the need for police on the back end? As with health care, prevention is almost always cheaper (and requires fewer officers) than dealing with a problem later.

Are there potential savings in administrative overhead? Are there paperwork requirements that are hindering officers from doing their jobs -- while adding to the administrative costs of processing the paper (or electronic reports)? On the other hand, are there administrative jobs that could be more efficiently done by officers than other employees; or, as with the parking tickets, jobs being done by officers that could be done more cheaply by others?

3. What's a "crime"? Bars are businesses designed to profit from the sale of alcohol. It's illegal for them to sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. To permit them to admit customers who are legally prohibited from participating in the business in which the bar is engaged defies common sense -- whether before or after 10:00 p.m. Under-age drinking in Iowa City's bars is commonplace, the bar owners know it, and they profit from it. My view is that we should either (a) lower the drinking age to 18, or (b) simply enforce the law, limiting admission to bars to those over 21.

I mention this now only because it is an example (which happens to be outside the power of the police department to control) of how what we define as a "crime" has an impact on the size (and budget) of our police department. Enforce the 21-only standard and my instinct tells me there would be less need for police downtown late at night on Fridays and Saturdays. (Whether, as some contend, there would be greater needs elsewhere as a result is another matter.)

What I call "the lesser drugs" (alcohol being our nation's number one hard drug problem by any measure), also offer examples. I don't know what the standards are now under Iowa law, or in Iowa City, regarding the quantities of marijuana that are either illegal or are thought worthy of police enforcement. But as those amounts are varied up or down they have an effect on needed police resources.

Not incidentally, they also have an impact on the "need" for additional jails and prisons. A system of "drug courts" and treatment programs may not affect the number of drug offenders coming to the attention of police and judges, but it can certainly have an impact on how many return.

The same can be said for speed limits, and restrictions on turns at intersections -- in fact virtually everything mentioned in the Code of Iowa and Municipal Code of Iowa City. The police can't change those laws, but they -- in consultation with the City Council, County Attorney and others -- can modify the standards they will apply in enforcement, and the County Attorney in prosecution.

4. "Peak loads," Coordination and Overtime. Peak loads are a classic problem for systems analysts.

In the days when men got their hair cut in barber shops, and usually on Saturdays, the shops had to decide how many chairs (and barbers) to have available. Too many and they lost money on chairs that sat empty most of the week. Too few and they lose customers on Saturday.

It's a problem for airlines, serving business customers who want to be on time for morning appointments in distant cities and back home for dinner. As you may have experienced, there's a bit of a crush in the early mornings and around 5:00 in the afternoon and early evening.

It's also a problem in staffing police departments, or fire departments.

There's no way we can afford to keep on a year-round payroll the 1000 police officers we'd like to have -- and would need, along with some national guard troops -- under some imaginable scenarios.

So what do we do? We don't staff up for those ultimate emergencies. We hire a few more than we need on some days, and a few less than we wish we had on others. And the factors that affect those needs are for the most part outside of the control of the police and unpredictable -- with the possible exception of football Saturdays, which are known in advance.

Given the variations in need from hour to hour and day to day, there is really only a range, rather than a precise number, of full time police officers that it would be reasonable for Iowa City to employ.

Consolidation and coordination. We're talking about a consolidated communications system for local law enforcement units in Johnson County. That's probably a great idea.

But what about the next step? The number of people in Johnson County is not that much more than the number who live in large apartment complexes in New York or Tokyo. Does it really make sense for that number of people to be served by what may be a dozen or more law enforcement organizations?

Talk about a win-win! With consolidation and coordination costs decline and quality of service improves. Just one of the reasons is that peak load problem. Each of the units must maintain a margin of resources to deal with unexpected demand. Add up all of those margins around the county, not to mention the duplication in administrative overhead, and you're talking about a lot of officers -- with budgets to match.

I don't minimize the embedded resistance to a change of this kind from within those units. And some of the resistance may well have a rational basis that would need to be seriously studied. But it might be worthwhile to think through the advantages of such a change as well, or as many of them as are politically attainable, rather than rejecting the idea out of hand.

Overtime is desired by some employees in any organization. It's an easy way to pick up additional income without working two jobs -- and in some retirement plans can even boost an employee's benefits beyond what his or her base pay was when working. So it necessarily creates a conflict of interest of sorts -- whether or not there is abuse. It may be that there could be some savings in overtime costs by rescheduling work days, postponing some tasks to regular work hours, and other advance planning. Clearly if there is an indisputable need for an ongoing level of overtime that exceeds the cost of an additional full time officer, it would be cheaper to hire one.

5. Statistics.
My fading memory is that the rule of thumb used to be one police officer for every 1000 population. Apparently the national average is now 1.8 per 1000 for cities the size of Iowa City. We have 1.1 per thousand. Sounds like we need more police -- and we may.

But there are a couple of mathematical points to be made.

There are three comments readers have added to the Press-Citizen's editorial. One, by "geardaddies" at 8:42 p.m. Saturday, notes that there are "more than 30 full time police officers" with the UI's campus police. If true, they probably really do need to be included in the count -- at least in some way. That would bring the total Iowa City police resources much closer to that national average.

Is that particular average the most relevant? The editorial also reports that serious crime in Iowa City is down (while increasing in some similar college towns). Whether those numbers be accurate or not, might this "average" -- police officers per serious crime -- be the more relevant number? Of towns with populations similar to ours, what is the average number of police officers as a percentage of serious crimes per year? How do our number of police officers per serious crime compare with other communities numbers of police officers per serious crime?
Just a few thoughts as we ponder "How many police officers does it take to . . .."

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

This blog began in June 2006 and has addressed, and continues to addresses, a number of public policy, political, media, education, economic development, and other issues -- not just the UI presidential search. But that is the subject to which most attention has been focused in blog entries between November 2006 and June 2007.

The presidential search blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. They end with Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 505 - Next (Now This) Week," June 10, 2007 (100-plus pages printed; a single blog entry for the events of June 10-21 ("Day 516"), plus over 150 attached comments from readers), and Nicholas Johnson, "UI Hostages Free At Last -- Habemas Mamam!," June 22, 2007.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each entry related to the UI presidential search contains links to the full text of virtually all known, non-repetitive media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the atmosphere for interdepartmental cooperation at the operational level between Johnson County law enforcement agencies is the most favorable it has been in many years. The problem is at the policy making level. the Sheriff is elected and can make policy decisions but the Chiefs are appointed and their ability to make policy is highly restricted.

On another issue. Some years the IC-PD gets a grant to pay overtime for officers to do bar checks.
As a consequence the number of PAULA citations doubles but there is no apparent increase in other types of arrests. I know the IC police claim otherwise but I don't see it in the data.

So how badly do we want to hand out PAULA citations? If it is a big deal we should hire every police officer who wants extra work for miles around and flood the bars with cops. If not we should forget about applying for such grants.

I also need to remind Nick and other readers that many businesses who serve alcohol would not be able to operate without staff who are under the legal age to drink. The law is specifically written to allow them to be in a drinking establishment.