The City Council this week took a significant step toward making sure police can and do provide the level of service residents want.
The move, approved unanimously by the Council Tuesday, establishes a series benchmarks that will be evaluated annually to gauge police effectiveness. The benchmarks will be reviewed in a public safety forum each March, allowing council direction and public comment to be taken into consideration at the beginning of the city's yearly budget process.
The plan which City Manager Donna Landeros said is unique among Contra Costa County police departments came about at the direction of council members who were reacting to residents' concerns that the Brentwood PD was understaffed.
That concern resulted from an ordinance passed in 2000 calling for 1.5 police officers for every 1,000 residents of the city. Manpower shortages, budget shortfalls and other considerations have kept the city from ever reaching that goal the current figure is 1.2 sworn officers per 1,000 residents.
Recent analysis by city staff shows that the 2000 ordinance was not based on any criteria other than the council's desire to put more police on the street. Also, the state Constitution prohibits a city council from creating permanent, General Fund obligations on a subsequent council, meaning the 2000 ordinance for the 1.5 ratio is not binding in 2008.
Although he'd love to hire the 14 additional officers required to get to the 1.5 ratio, police Chief Mark Evenson said Monday that budgetary constraints make adding them now difficult. Instead of trying to reach an arbitrary number, he said, the benchmarks will help make sure the police provide a secure environment in the city.
The baseline for each category has now been set, and should be followed up by the establishment of goals for each category and a plan on how to achieve those goals.
The four benchmarks set by the council this week are:
Call response times. The BPDs response time for emergency calls in 2007 was 4:42 (four minutes, 42 seconds), the fastest time since 2004. Evenson said the national average is about six minutes.
Incidents of crime and crime rate. The number of Part 1 crimes (which include murder, rape, robbery, arson, assault, residential burglary, non-residential burglary, theft and auto theft) has risen over the years with the city's population. In 2000, 868 Part 1 crimes took place in the city; last year there were 1,816. (The projection for 2008 is that Part 1 crimes will drop to 1,737.) The city's population in that time grew from 22,230 to 48,677.
That means that although the raw number of incidents has risen, the number of crimes per 1,000 population has dropped, going from 39.05 in 2000 to 37.31 in 2007. The ratio is projected to drop further in 2008, to 34.32.
Workload. The reactive portion of this benchmark the number of times officers respond to a call for service comes from adding together crimes, calls for service, cases taken and collisions, and dividing that number by the number of sworn officers on the force. The resulting number in 2007 was 594, slightly lower than previous years.
Proactive workload refers to officer-initiated items such as arrests and traffic citations. That number, 183 in 2007, is higher than in recent years, an indication that officers have had more time and opportunity for enforcement action. Evenson said that should this benchmark, which reflects one of the most important parts of police work, begin to slip, it could well mean more patrol officers are needed.
Clearance rates. Crimes are cleared (closed) by either an arrest or something that prevents the department from moving forward, such as a suspect's death or another jurisdiction refusing to extradite. Evenson said Brentwood's clearance rates compare favorably to national averages except for burglary. The burglary clearance for agencies with similar populations to Brentwood's in 2006 was 12.8 percent, while Brentwood's was 7 percent. In 2007, the Brentwood rate was 8 percent.
After hearing Evenson's report, Councilman Brandon Richey pointed out that while useful for determining trends, the information did not provide a clear-cut answer to how many sworn officers are needed. One of the major benefits of the benchmarks, however, is that reviewing them in a public session annually and then providing direction makes the City Council more accountable for proper policing. The details of staffing still must be managed by the PD, he said, but the council would now be responsible to the public more directly if things aren't to the public's satisfaction.
Councilman Erick Stonebarger agreed that staff levels are difficult to arrive at, and said he preferred to think of the process as where we are, where we want to be, and how do we get there.
I don't have a strong feeling that 1.5 officers on the street is going to get us the benefit we want, he said. How the officers on the street are deployed the ability to respond to hotspots in a timely fashion is critical is more important than just a ratio, he said, but the benchmarks provide at least some tangible data that will be helpful in establishing policies.
The enthusiastic response from the council for the results-oriented evaluation process begun by the establishment of the benchmarks was similar to that of members of the public at this week's meeting. Jennifer Fernandez, a co-chair of the Shadow Lakes Neighborhood Watch group, said she hopes, however, that the process will result in more cops sooner than later.
It took a long time to put that information together, she said. Now that they're up to speed, I hope they can react more quickly to residents' call for more cops on the street.