Monday, September 21, 2009

Required reading on APD

The AJC had a long piece in the Sunday paper about the Atlanta Police Department - you should read the whole thing. There are a few things I wanted to highlight, though.

I've been saying that simply adding more officers isn't much of a solution. The AJC thankfully points out that:
Despite recent cuts, Atlanta has more officers for every 1,000 residents than all but one of seven benchmark cities identified by a consultant to the mayor.

The only city in that group with more officers than Atlanta — St. Louis — also is the only one with a higher crime rate.
While I think there is a matter of density to consider, I hope we can agree that "more officers" doesn't automatically translate into lower crime rates.

The second thing is the issue of "perception".
At its core, the APD is a service business, whose customers are the citizens of Atlanta. Regardless of the empirical quality of the work, service businesses need to be concerned with the perception of that work. I may order the best burger in the world, but if the server is a giant jerk who ignores me cops an attitude, acts like I'm a bother, and treats me like an idiot when I ask for more Coke, then I'm not going to have a good opinion of that restaurant. APD can tout lower overall crime rates all they want, but the following is going to ensure that citizens continue to complain about the service they get from the police department:
Just 40 percent of Atlanta police officers are assigned to routine patrol, the city’s internal auditor reported in April.
As a result, the auditor concluded, the department experiences frequent “blackouts” — periods during which no officer is immediately available to handle emergency calls.

The police zones covering northwest, southwest and southeast Atlanta were in blackout almost three hours a day in 2007 and 2008. In the other three zones, blackouts averaged 40 to 80 minutes a day.
Two areas that I have identified as having the greatest increase in property crimes, SE and SW Atlanta, quite literally have no one home for three hours EVERY DAY. The article notes that in June it took an average of 20 minutes to simply dispatch an officer on a call. It is probably closer to 30 minutes before anyone shows up. Judging from the people I've talked to, waiting 30 minutes for an officer is an unacceptable amount of time to wait, and will ensure a perception among citizens that the APD is incompetent, doesn't care, or can't handle the city.

Finally, I have commented that I wanted to avoid using sensationalized incidents to score points or to drive policy.  I hate it when politicians do the "I met so and so in Smalltown, Ohio last week, and listen to how awful their life is, and my legislation will fix it."  Inevitably, you get bogged down in the specifics of whether so-and-so is a stand-up citizen, or whatever, and the actual policy argument gets lost amid all the B.S.  I'm glad the AJC summed up the reality of the Standard shooting:
Much of what was reported about Henderson’s killing turned out to be false. He was not shot execution-style. Nor was he wounded four times. He was hit once in the leg during the robbery and once again in the head, maybe by accident, as the robbers fled. One of the bullets came from a handgun the robbers took from Henderson’s co-worker.

And the area around the Standard was hardly unprotected before the robbery.

From 2:55 to 3:05 a.m., police dispatch records show, the officer assigned to the neighborhood was checking on a gas station at Memorial Drive and Hill Street — 500 feet from the Standard. The officer resumed patrol moments before the robbers smashed the bar’s door.

Short of standing guard at the Standard, it appears the officer could have done little more to prevent the crime.
Yet we heard after the Standard ad nauseum about how the furloughs were to killing the city, or we want to think that more officers on patrol can prevent crime.  It just isn't that simple, and using incidents like the Standard as proof of anything other than the maliciousness of criminals has a potential to backfire.  That is why this blog has tried to focus on data, analyzed in a hopefully objective fashion. 

1 comment:

  1. You've really done a great job of keeping up on this topic and you make some very astute points.

    Unfortunately, it sounds like there's no easy solution. Your customer service analogy is a good one but it will take a long time to turn around the perception (as it would with any large organization).

    Nice work, Ben.

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