MCOLES tracks, among many things, the total number of licensed officers in the state on a monthly basis. As a state we have been in a continual decline since 2001 with a total reduction as of March 31st of 4,109. We presently have 18,379 licensed officers across the state which includes all categories of officers, State, County, local, tribal and others.
Recently I also read an article about the overall crime rate being down despite the decrease in officers. It has been my experience that there are many factors that affect the crime rate, law enforcement response or lack of being one along with economic conditions and others. My fear is that a story such as this will give rise to the belief that we have enough law enforcement.
As a former Chief of Police I faced this argument in the past and was careful to remind those who had this thought, that crime fighting and prevention is not all that an agency does. General calls for service that I used to call quality of life and order maintenance are a vast majority of a law enforcement agencies work load.
Additionally, it is easy to forget how we got to a low crime rate. I will agree that law enforcement is not the sole factor that reduces crime and are a part of all the other factors I have listed. However, it can’t be denied that law enforcement has an effect and is part of the overall solution to crime. The problem comes when we get complacent, take advantage of the reduced crime rate, and either continue to work at a low-level of staffing or continue reducing.
When I was a city manager, I always used the example of our water system, when giving a presentation on city services. I would ask how many people turned on a faucet that morning and flushed a toilet. Of course every hand would go up. I would then talk about how much continual maintenance it took to make the seemingly simple process of getting water in your house and back out again work.
Crime is no different and it takes continual maintenance by a community. That maintenance comes in the form of a strong economic environment and other factors with a good law enforcement presence being critical.