Officers per thousand and other deployment myths

Myths vs. Reality

Officers Per Thousand IS NOT a Standard!

Police agencies routinely speak about “recommended officers per 1,000 population” or a “National Standard” for staffing, or comparisons to other municipalities. There are no such standards.

Nor are there “recommended numbers of officer per thousand.”

Nor is it useful to make comparisons with other communities.

In the 1950’s one statistic that was routinely collected (and reported) by federal agencies, as well as organizations involved in performance measurement such as ICMA, resulted in a statistical ratio of officers per thousand. However, the Center for Public Safety Management does not recommend comparing staffing for any population nor is this a valid benchmark. And here’s why:

  • The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) states, “Ready-made, universally applicable patrol staffing standards do not exist. Ratios, such as officers-per-thousand population, are totally inappropriate as a basis for staffing decisions.”
  • Joseph Brann, the first director of the COPS Office and retired chief of police in Haywood, California, wrote in “Officer’s per Thousand and other Urban Myths” appearing in ICMA’s PM magazine, “A key resource is discretionary patrol time, or the time available for officers to make self-initiated stops, advise a victim in how to prevent the next crime, or call property owners, neighbors, or local agencies to report problems or request assistance. Understanding discretionary time, and how it is used, is vital. Yet most departments do not compile such data effectively. To be sure, this is not easy to do and, in some departments may require improvements in management information systems.”

Staffing decisions, particularly in patrol, must be made based on actual workload, and very few police agencies have the capability of conducting that analysis. Once an analysis of the actual workload is made, then a determination can be made as to the amount of discretionary patrol time should exist, consistent with the community’s ability to fund.

CPSM’s team of doctoral-level experts in Operations Research in Public Safety have created in The CPSM Patrol Workload & Deployment Analysis System© the ability to produce detailed information on workload, even in those agencies without sophisticated management information systems. Using the raw data extracted from the police department’s CAD system, our team forensically analyzes and converts calls for service into police services workload and then effectively graphs workload reflecting seasonal, weekday / weekend, and time of day variables.

Using this information, the police department can contrast actual workload with deployment and identify the amount of discretionary patrol time available (as well as time commitments to other police activities).

Police service workload differentiates from calls for service in that calls for service are a number reflecting the incidents recorded. Workload is a time measurement recording the actual amount of police time required to handle calls for service from inception to completion. Various types of police service calls require differing amounts of time (and thus affect staffing requirements). As such, call volume (number of calls) as a percentage of total number of calls could be significantly different than workload in a specific area as a percentage of total workload.

CPSM has found that the most effective way to manage operations, including public safety, is to make decisions based upon the interpretation and analysis of data and information. To achieve this, the Center for Public Safety Management conducts a data analysis of police department workload, staffing, and deployment. We do the same for fire departments.

By objectively looking at the availability of deployed hours and comparing those to the hours necessary to conduct operations, staffing expansion and/or reductions can be determined and projected.

Additionally, the time necessary to conduct proactive police activities (such as directed patrol, community policing, and selected traffic enforcement) is reviewed to provide the city with a meaningful methodology to determine appropriate costing allocation models. Further, we review existing deployment, particularly of the patrol force, to determine appropriate staffing levels throughout the day and season with particular attention to the size and number of patrol zones or beats. Understanding the difference between the various types of police department events and the staffing implications is critical to determining actual deployment needs.