Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan became a police officer in 1969. Part of his career involved work in one of the department's street crimes units.
"I ran one for eight years," Jordan said.
When other officers stay busy out on the street working patrols or responding to calls for help, those in a street crimes unit take a more strategic approach, investigating and planning tactical operations to stamp out specific crime trends.
"It was everything from armed robbers to serial rapists to burglars," Jordan said. "It could be something as mundane as juvenile problems in a park. But it gives the division commander the ability to address those kinds of problems with a dedicated unit."
Ideally, each of the department's three patrol divisions would have such a unit, Jordan said. But these aren't ideal times. The department has zero such units, which were cut during budget woes related to the recent economic recession.
Jordan said in an interview he'd bring back street crime units if he's able to increase staffing levels. The department currently has 771 officers.
"We had 830 officers in 2008, and we would like to get back" to that number, he said -- though he added that he'd like even more officers. "Probably, if I had to say where would I like to be right now, I'd say around 860."
The number of officers on the street remains a highly politicized issue. Mayor Dewey Bartlett is pushing for a portion of a temporary sales tax to be devoted to funding more police academies, a reworking of the tax which now supports city infrastructure projects.
Courtesy of Tulsa Police Dept.
But that would first require a ballot measure, and so far the proposal seems to have met with a tepid response from city councilors who would have to approve putting such a measure on the ballot.
In the short-term, Bartlett's budget for the upcoming fiscal year only includes funding for one police academy. Though numbers may vary, such academies typically train about 30 officers. Bartlett's proposal covers the 12-month period beginning July 1 -- which would likely result in the number of officers increasing only very slightly, once retirements and departures are factored in.
Tulsa isn't necessarily alone in struggling to return to manpower levels from more flush economic times. Results from a survey published in February by the Police Executive Research Forum showed that 76 percent of agencies taking part in the survey reported that they expected the number of officers on the street to remain the same. Another 17 percent expected a decrease in officers, while only 8 percent described expecting an increase.
However, questioning from the Tulsa City Council at a May 16 meeting seemed highly focused on boosting the number of officers out on the street.
"I'm just trying to get in my head the dollar figure that we need to be focused on if we want to be able to ... basically to add 60 patrol officers in the coming fiscal year," Councilor G.T. Bynum told Jordan.
In the meeting, the council discussed efforts to "civilianize" positions to free officers to handle patrol and other policing duties. By doing so, Jordan said potentially 16 officers might be able to work patrols.
"I don't want desk officers to be civilians," Jordan said, describing how walk-ins seeking help might potentially be followed by someone threatening them, for example. Talks also included a discussion of police overtime.
All the talk has a deadline. The city council must approve a budget by late June.
In an interview, Jordan described other ways he'd deploy officers if staffing increased.
"First of all, we'd fill holes in squads we have now and put more people in each squad. We'd certainly like to add some more school resource officers to put in our schools," Jordan said.
He described how currently, the department only has three school resource officers. Jordan said he'd like to have at least six such officers.
"We're investing in our future when we do that. This isn't just to police, it's also a liaison with our children," Jordan said. He also brought up the Newtown, Conn. school shooting last year and a desire to have more protection for students.
Setting deployment priorities is "a balancing act," Jordan said.
"We could take people out of detective division, but people also expect secondary investigations, when they have a burglary, when they have an auto theft, when they have those kinds of things, they expect somebody to be following up on that," Jordan said. "And so, again, it's a balancing act to try to find a happy medium to conduct those secondary investigations and still respond adequately to calls for service."
With more staffing, he said he'd also like to "beef up" the investigative division. "Right now, they're at the bare minimum," he said.
Tulsa doesn't have a lateral hire program, which would allow officers from other cities to bypass Tulsa's police academy when joining the department. Such programs sometimes are used as recruiting tools in other cities.
Jordan said Tulsa's police academy is 10 weeks longer than training provided elsewhere. "I think we need to put people through our academy," he said.
Council questioning has focused on a study of police staffing done in 2008 by MGT of America, Inc.
"Our calls for service have increased from about 250,000 to over 300,000, so I guess it would be safe to say the survey's not valid, but it is a benchmark. It's a point we can start at," Jordan said.
He said the police keep track of calls along specific beats to make adjustments year-to-year in how to best make patrols.
"You know, we don't have the manpower or ability to do as extensive a survey as MGT did. I'm not real big on going out and spending money on consultants every time you have a question. Normally the problem and the answers are right there in front of you," Jordan said.
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