Reallocating police: What can we learn from other cities?

November 26, 2010

Chicago’s crime rate is down, but it might not feel like it.  This week brought the killing of yet another Chicago Police Officer--the fourth this year. Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis is up against a cash-strapped budget, so he’s reconsidering how the department uses the resources it already has.  In this case, “resources” means “officers.”

Jody Weis (Flickr/Kate Gardiner)

According to a recent Chicago Sun-Times analysis, here’s how it would work. The department would

use the volume of 911 and backup police calls to determine how officers are deployed. The analysis found that this would entail reallocating officers from the North side to the South and West sides of town, where more calls are received.

Although the Chicago has long toyed with changing how it allocates officers, Weis says the CPD is using the same system it had three decades ago. Meanwhile, other cities like New York and Los Angeles have picked up on modeling systems designed to help allocate officers to areas with higher crime. That’s in large part thanks to a guy named William Bratton.

Before his current job as chairman of the security consulting company Kroll, Bratton headed up some of the country’s largest police departments.  In New York City and Los Angeles, he used computer modeling to guide officer deployment. That made effectively covering more ground easier, as he explained to Eight Forty-Eight’s Alison Cuddy earlier this week:

“In both New York and Los Angeles, I had total flexibility to move my resources. In Los Angeles, I had a much smaller police force than you have now—I had 9,000 officers in a city of 4 million people.  You have 11,000 officers in a city of 2.5 million people; That’s 200 square miles.  The city of Los Angeles is 480 square miles.”

Crime dropped under Bratton’s reign in both cities.  He says reacting nimbly to crime is key, but as he expressed on Eight Forty-Eight, it’s also important that officers develop relationships with the community:

“One of the things to understand is that like a doctor dealing with a patient, he not only deals with the primary illness, he deals with a lot of the other minor illnesses that might be contributing to the overall health of the patient.”

But working on community relations takes time and energy, which can be a challenge. Weis says reallocating police would help level the workload between officers and create a more even playing field.  He’s expected to release a reallocation plan before the end of the year.