The economic downturn that battered the United States in recent years has left its painful mark on virtually all segments of American life. Police departments throughout the country are no exception.
In Youngstown, for example, tightened municipal budgets have trickled their way down to the men and women in blue. The size of the force has fallen from about 200 officers a decade ago to about 150 today. To his credit, city Police Chief Rod Foley has aggressively and successfully lobbied for additional police resources to ensure a force that is capable of adequately patrolling what still remains a city with a disturbingly high crime rate.
Even though Foley has hired 24 officers over the past several years, more retirements have led the chief to request funding to hire four or five additional officers. His request should be given serious consideration by Finance Director David Bozanich, Mayor Charles Sammarone, council members and other city leaders. We would also urge them to explore all available grant opportunities, such as those that have financed 75 percent of several recent hirees’ salaries, given the tight budget constraints the city must still endure.
But in the final analysis, public safety cannot be nickeled and dimed, particularly in Youngstown. The city has witnessed significant progress in reducing violent crime under Foley; that trend line must not be reversed.
Were Youngstown not the crime haven it remains today, we might argue that Foley should work harder to do more with less. After all, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, optimum staffing levels in cities of 65,000 people is 1.8 officers per 100,000 people, which totals 127 officers for Youngstown.
But as the International Chiefs of Police Association points out, such data cannot be taken too seriously. “Defining patrol staffing allocation and deployment requirements is a complex endeavor that requires an extensive series of factors and a sizable body of reliable, current data,” the association argues. Simply put, communities plagued with crime that runs far above national averages require above-average resources to fight it.
Comparisons offer perspective
Consider cities comparable to Youngstown. In Canton, with a similar population of about 70,000, the police force, too, stands at about 150 officers. Violent crime, however, in the county seat of Stark County, has traditionally been lower than that of Youngstown. In 2011, Canton recorded 16 murders per 100,000 people; Youngstown recorded 25 per 100,000 people.
Or look farther east to Camden, N.J., a city only slightly larger than Youngstown with 75,000 people. Its police force of 265 officers is monumentally larger than Youngstown’s and more than twice as high as that calculated by the Department of Justice. Still, police there struggle to keep up with that city’s criminal element.
In addition, police departments across America have responded to recent lean years on public budgets by cutting back manpower and by implementing creative staffing solutions to compensate. But there’s only so much of doing less with more before it has a palpable impact on public safety. In many cities, weakened staffing levels have produced longer response times, reduction of crime investigations and elimination of special units focusing on gang violence, drug trade and traffic hazards.
Youngstown today can ill afford to lessen the professional and successful police presence on many of it still very mean streets. In addition, Chief Foley has performed commendably in reducing violent crime. As we prepare to enter the final quarter of 2013, the city has logged a whopping 50 percent decrease in homicides over 2012. Crackdowns on the drug and gun trade have yielded similar positive results.
Youngstown must stay this course because crime reduction increases the quality of life for all residents and businesses in the city. That’s why city leaders should spare no energies toward making the chief’s reasonable request a reality.