Police Staffing Analysis: A Strategic Window into Resource Allocation

Robert Davis

City government leaders and police executives across the country are regularly challenged by the seemingly simple question: “How many officers does your police department need to fulfill its mission?”

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City government leaders and police executives across the country are regularly challenged by the seemingly simple question: “How many officers does your police department need to fulfill its mission?” What drives the discussion depends, of course, on factors such as the scope of the agency’s mission, budgetary constraints, crime level trends, major changes in the size and density of populations and neighborhoods, and public safety expectations held by stakeholders ranging from citizens and communities to local businesses, government leaders and even federal regulators.

Also vital to the strategic context of the analysis is whether the department is seeking to expand, contract or refocus its budgets, operations, and personnel on priorities such as (1) proactive community-oriented patrol and (2) investigative services emphasizing a multidisciplinary approach that may include experts in handling individuals challenged with mental health, homelessness, domestic violence and drug abuse.

Subjective answers to the “how many officers do you need” question rarely work. Far more effective is a response based on objective facts, evidence and standards. In industry terminology, this is known as a police staffing analysis. What exactly does this involve? Can the city or agency conduct an analysis on its own? And what kind of outcomes should city, police and community stakeholders expect from the exercise?

Three Key Drivers of Police Staffing Analysis

Fundamental to the process are the three following elements or components.

  • Data, Information and Trends. It’s critical to gather the “right” data. Collecting information about every service unit within the department is most useful – not just the ones potentially earmarked for expansion, merging or dissolution. You want a comprehensive view across police operations and personnel deployment, especially citizen-initiated calls for service, department-initiated priorities and administrative activities. You also want to look carefully at geographic and temporal allocation and examine work schedules to test how they affect staffing
  • Performance Objectives for Staffing. While it is a relatively straightforward process to build a staffing model based on calls for service, most communities want police personnel to do more than simply answer calls or investigate crimes. Your staffing model should reflect community expectations about the use of unobligated patrol time and how investigative units approach their work. It should also take into account the benefits of community collaboration and multidisciplinary approaches to police services whenever practical and feasible.
  • Field Observations and Direct Feedback. The quality of the analysis and its findings are also highly dependent on input gleaned by analysts who observe field operations and engage in discussions with officers doing the work. While one can learn a lot from data, it is critical to understand the department’s members and how they view their job.

Nine Questions Any Police Staffing Analysis Should Address

The analyst team should be seeking information and insights that help them understand the following issues.

  1. Is the Police Chief’s office – as well as the various units that comprise the department – organized in the most effective way, both from a management and service delivery perspective?
  2. Do the agency’s structures support these two concepts: unity of command and span of control?
  3. Are lines of authority and responsibility well-defined?
  4. Is authority temporally or spatially focused? Do senior managers have sufficient authority and accountability?
  5. What is the mix of sworn and non-sworn positions? Are sworn personnel occupying positions that could be performed more efficiently or effectively by non-sworn personnel?
  6. Are there opportunities to share services with other jurisdictions or among other city departments?
  7. Are shared services fully harnessed to enhance efficiency and effectiveness?
  8. How can future staffing needs be addressed best, particularly as they relate to proactive community-oriented patrol and investigative services that emphasize a multidisciplinary approach whenever possible and practical?
  9. What is your succession planning approach, and will it be effective for future needs?

Six Core Tasks the Police Staffing Analysis Team Will Execute

Should your department undertake its own analysis? If you still think so after reading the section above, consider the rigor and complexity inherent in the following. Police staffing analysts typically take the following actions to reach objective, data-driven findings and recommendations.

  1. Examine the distribution of calls for service. Calls for service can differ by the hour, day and month. Peak call times can also differ by geographic location. Knowing when peak call times occur can help agencies determine when to have their highest levels of staff on duty as well as identify where to place the staff geographically.
  2. Examine the nature of calls. Reviewing the nature of calls can help provide a better understanding of the work that officers are doing. Types of police work required can vary by area within a single jurisdiction or multiple locations, and this requires agencies to staff different areas accordingly.
  3. Estimate time consumed on calls for service. Determining how long a call takes, from initial response to completing final paperwork, is key to determining the number of officers needed per shift.
  4. Calculate a shift-relief factor. The shift-relief factor shows the maximum number of days that an officer can actually work. Knowing the relief factor is necessary to estimate the number of officers that should be assigned to a shift and ensure that the appropriate number is working each day.
  5. Establish performance objectives. This encompasses determining what fraction of an officer’s shift should be devoted to calls for service and what portion to other activities. For example, an agency might build a staffing model in which officers spend 50 percent of their shift on calls for service and 50 percent on other policing activities, such as community-based policing efforts.
  6. Provide staffing estimates. Staffing needs will, as noted earlier, vary by time, day and month, among other variables – including the unique needs of the various communities and neighborhoods the agency serves. These numbers may also vary by the type of calls and the time and officers required to handle them during each shift. For example, an agency may assign two officers to each unit in its evening shift, which ultimately affects the number of officers needed for units to respond to calls. These baseline estimates are also able to factor in future staffing needs, depending upon anticipated community growth.

A Wealth of Police Management Benefits

A well-executed police staffing analysis can give you much more than a clear understanding of how many police officers are needed, whether the agency is appropriately staffed and where staffing realignment could improve department outcomes. It can also give you the ability to sustain a safe, secure environment while ensuring a more effective and efficient workforce. It can provide you and your stakeholders with valuable insights into the objective number of police officers required to help the agency meet the demands placed on it most cost-effectively.

Jensen Hughes law enforcement consultants can help you gain an objective perspective of your department’s practices and staffing requirements while identifying new efficiencies and areas for improvement. Learn more about our police department assessment services.

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About the author

Robert L. Davis
Rob Davis is a highly regarded and innovative national leader and expert in policing and public safety with a special emphasis on ethics and integrity programs.

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