Last month, I wrote about the perception of crime versus the reality and how our homicides, robberies, burglaries and car thefts are down from years past. This month I want to acknowledge that while the most visible, serious crimes are down, quality-of-life issues and general demands for police continue to rise.
The number of officers on the street is about the same it was in the 1970s, despite going from about 30,000 cases a year back then to over 100,000 in 2014. When I started here in the mid-90s, there were one or two patrol districts where you could go an entire 12-hour shift with only one or two calls.
Today, that is unheard of. The amount of illegal drugs, chemical abuse, child abuse and neglect, Internet crimes, child pornography, human trafficking, mental illness and residential care facilities is keeping our officers very busy.
Several officers have expressed concern they are getting burned out with the call load and would like more officers on the street. We are currently updating our strategic plan, but it is becoming clear we may have to change some business practices due to the increasing demands on staff.
Police have had additional unfunded burdens placed on them through law changes. Prior to 1997, when a convicted sex offender was released, there were no registration or public notification requirements. Today, we know that a certain percentage of sex offenders are likely to reoffend and we are responsible to ensure registration requirements are met, so we now have the equivalent of one and a half officers ensuring sex-offender compliance.
New types of crime have also increased. In the early and mid-90’s internet crime was unheard of. Today, we now have an officer assigned to computer crimes and forensics. Sadly, we continue to see increases in the amount of child pornography traded on the Internet. Studies have shown that 70-80 percent of those who look at child porn also abuse children. Currently, we are struggling to keep up with the volume of child pornography cases and not all are investigated.
Human trafficking is an area where, historically, we didn’t know the extent of the problem. Since we now realize a high percentage of runaways are targeted and pulled into trafficking, we have an officer designated to investigate runaways and human trafficking cases. We do more outreach and preventative work in this area than ever. Trafficking cases are very time-intensive because of the sensitivity and dynamics associated with the crime. It can easily take an investigator two years of solid investigative work to bring charges in a case. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to investigate every potential trafficking case, but have allocated staff to investigate as many of these cases as possible.
Special events also continue to thrive in Duluth, which is great for the economy. We will have 53 special events this year that need traffic and crowd coordination; that’s 16 more than 2012 and there is the potential for an additional four new events this year. These events are often personnel-intensive and require significant resources to keep attendees safe from traffic or other threats. 9-11 and the Boston marathon bombing, for instance, changed the way police manage large special events to ensure everyone’s safety.
Our citizens expect that we operate under the community policing philosophy, but it requires additional resources. In the 1990s, President Clinton allocated significant spending to pay for additional police officers. At one point, Duluth had eight federally funded community policing positions. Today, federal funding is a fraction of what it was and we are struggling to fill the positions.
Community policing is more personnel-intensive than the traditional policing model which we operated under until the early ’90s. We will continue to seek out grants and funding to help us with our staffing. We know the financial challenges the city faces and are working to find balance in what services we can and cannot continue to provide as part of our strategic planning process.
We have a wonderful cadre of volunteers who help us every day in a variety of ways. We would not be able to do it without them!
I will keep you updated on our strategic planning.
Visit Chief Ramsay’s blog.