Photo credit: Frank Borelli
After nearly 30 years in law enforcement I've seen agencies that are huge (NYPD as the example), big (Washington DC PD as the example), medium sized, small and only part time. I've seen campus police departments where the officers served more as armed walking information centers than law enforcement officers. I've seen agencies that were so small they only had officers on duty 20 hours per day, five or six days per week. But during those other hours, the officers were on call. One part time officer was also a volunteer fireman and lived at the firehouse. He was NEVER off duty if he was within the town's borders.
I was struck by that thought this morning and created the accompanying graphic. The "thin blue line" hasn't been as thin as it is now in quite some time. Just five or six years ago we had over 900,000 law enforcement professionals employed in the United States. The most recent numbers I've received from the Fraternal Order of Police is about 715,000 officers. While more than 700,000 officers might seem a lot, that's a 20% reduction in our total domestic law enforcement community. One fifth!!
Now, understand: court decisions have made it clear that law enforcement professionals don't have a legal responsibility to protect the safety or property of a given individual. That said, I don't know a law enforcement professional who will turn his (or her) back when they see a crime being committed, whether it's a property crime or a personal crime. That officer or deputy will do what is necessary whether they are in uniform or not and often at greater risk to themselves simply because they are off duty.
I once read (in some leadership class somewhere) that a good ratio of law enforcement professionals to the general public, so that we could maintain an acceptable minimal level of timely and professional services, was 1-500. 1-250 is obviously better and more desirable, but the 1-500 was considered a bare minimum. Doing the math and assuming a national population of 300 million (but knowing that's a low ball number), we should have 1.2 MILLION police officers serving in various agencies across the nation. 715K is only 59% of what we SHOULD have!
Let's think for a minute and realize another huge factor that totally blows these numbers out of the water and should make us VERY concerned about current staffing and manpower issues: the recommendation for a 1-250 ration, or even a 1-500 ratio is an ON DUTY number. That's 1-500 ON DUTY requiring enough personnel to cover three shifts per day, seven days per week. To cover ONE full time shift a week requires a minimum of FIVE officers. So, all of a sudden, the 1-500 is actually 5-500 or 1-100. Using THAT reality we find out that a population of 300 million requires 3 MILLION officers. 715K is only 24% of that number; less than one-fourth of the officers we actually NEED to provide adequate minimal services.
So, keep that in mind when people / reporters start criticizing officers for anything. When you're doing your job with 1/4th of the required resources, mistakes happen; crime is not deterred as strongly; stress and burn out become larger realities. It also means that your backup is going to take four times longer than it should to get to you.