Of all the things that Salem needs, 60 more police officers should be way down on the priority list.
But I've been told that this is what Mayor Chuck Bennett is calling for, apparently during a recent City Council work session about the 2022 Policy Agenda.
Adding 60 officers to the force is a big deal that needs to be justified with extremely solid data and reasoning, not just because the Mayor or Chief Womack likes the idea.
Here's a thoughtful analysis of this seemingly unwise notion that someone sent to me.
I would like to suggest that you snark on Mayor Bennett for his ridiculous support for hiring 60 more Salem Police Department officers when Salem already employs more police department employees than any other major city (over 100,000) in Oregon. Here is a spreadsheet with the latest data for 2020 from the FBI that was just released about a month ago:
We do have fewer officers than other cities at 1.07 per 1,000, but that is really pretty close to the average of 1.17. If we hired 60 more that would shoot up to 1.42 which would put us at the top in that category, and far above the average.
We are not experiencing a “crime wave” in Salem (as the Mayor implied) as may be the case in other cities like Portland. We have had six murders so far this year which is about average. Here is a spreadsheet that shows some crime data through September, compared to the same period last year.
“Crimes against persons” (mostly assaults — homeless people?) is up 30%, but property crimes are down 33% and “crimes against society” like drug offenses, DUI, and traffic violations are down 51% (thanks largely to Measure 110).
Overall, I would say the Salem Police Department workload is going down. Not up.
In Mayor Bennett’s remarks he compares the Salem Police Department to the police department in Dayton, Ohio for some strange reason. He says that they have 500 officers compared to our 200 and they are a smaller city.
I looked it up and in 2019 Dayton reported 363 officers to the FBI, not 500, so the Mayor is wrong. Their population in 2019 in the FBI data is 140,427, so the Mayor was right about that.
But I also see in 2020 FBI data that their violent crime rate is more than twice that of Salem! They reported 1,366 violent crime incidents to the FBI for 2020 vs. only 623 for Salem. So they need more cops.
This shows that crime does not correlate with population as people like to assume. Salem’s crime was significantly higher 20 years ago (true of nearly all cities) when our population was much lower. So the fact that our population is growing does not necessarily mean we need more police.
Finally, the Mayor stated that we need more police to achieve “Vision Zero” traffic fatalities which Councilor Stapleton had brought up before the Mayor’s remarks. That’s bogus.
Twentieth-century traffic enforcement with police cars staking out and chasing violators in cities has been thoroughly discredited. Some cities are starting to move away from this altogether:
Twenty-first-century traffic enforcement can be handled more cheaply and effectively with speed cameras and red light cameras. And Vision Zero is mostly about redesigning streets for lower speeds, not hiring more police. Portland has a long list of Vision Zero strategies that they are pursuing and none of them involve more police.
Hiring 60 more officers would probably require adding at least a couple million more to the $52 million Salem Police Department budget, already about 1/3 of the entire General Fund.
The City Council needs to consider the “opportunity cost” of doing this — continued underfunding of our parks, library, city planning, code enforcement, etc. I have come to the conclusion that our new Police Chief may be a pretty brazen empire builder — much more so than his predecessor.
He already has a Cadillac police department and he wants more.