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Effectiveness of Small Police Departments

Uvalde could be an indicator.

When you hear about more jobs than there are applicants, that pretty much applies across the board. Including police and fire departments. Right now the Seattle Police Department has a significant staff shortage for commissioned officers. They want to hire 500. Much of their shortage has to do with poor morale, voluntary retirements and the departure of hundreds of officers due to a lack of support from the City Council and the city’s administrations. Even the last police chief resigned over the lack of support.

Then there is this. This morning I read: “People are questioning whether tiny police departments make sense. Why? Critics say these agencies, with fewer than 10 officers, often lack training, equipment and expertise, as shown during the May school shooting in Uvalde, Tex. How common is this? Very. The small departments make up nearly half of all local law enforcement agencies but often struggle to recruit qualified officers.”

I think these small departments have everything to do with wanting local control. It may also come from not wanting to have support from a larger entity and feeling like they are second fiddle. There can even be personal animosity involved between the decision-makers involved in making these decisions on how and where law enforcement support will come from.

The statement is also very likely to be true that a smaller department does not have all the training and in-depth experience that a larger department has. The quality of the officers in general can also be less.

Back to the city of Seattle. They are talking about offering $50,000 bonuses for transfers of fully qualified officers from other departments. Money is not going to solve their issue. I spoke to a couple of cops in the city of Seattle earlier this year and I asked them in casual conversation how crime was in the city. They shared that they cannot arrest anyone for a misdemeanor. Someone can go into a store, eat all they want and leave, and no arrest will happen. Stores like REI, which has a lot of outdoor camping equipment, have instructed their employees not to try to stop anyone walking out of the store with merchandise. A local drug store chain has pulled stores out of the downtown core because of physical assaults on their employees. Good cops don’t want to work where they feel like their hands are the ones in handcuffs.

Even recently, Seattle, the home of Starbucks, is closing up stores in areas that are experiencing crime surges. This includes those in the downtown core. I’m in Seattle once a week and it is not what it once was. Many people who live in the metro region are not going into Seattle anymore for shopping or entertainment due to security concerns.

I can’t say I have all the solutions, but if you want a more competent law enforcement capability supporting your small town or school district, upgrade the quality of the staff performing that mission by contracting out with a larger department.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.