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2018 report found Boise is 54 police officers short. Officials say not as many are needed

In 2016, BPD had 1.24 officers per 1,000 residents; the national average was 1.44 for cities of similar size.
Credit: KTVB
File image of the logo on a Boise police vehicle.

BOISE, Idaho — A report that found Boise was 54 police officers short in early 2018 has been a common refrain on the campaign trail, but police officials say it’s not that simple.

In January 2018, the Boise Police Department completed a patrol staffing analysis report to find out what the divisions’ needs are, and the model found the city needed an additional four sergeants and 50 officers to keep up with the city’s growth, according to the Idaho Press.

However, acting Boise Police Chief Ron Winegar said due to low crime rates in the city, an already efficient department and a desire to be fiscally responsible, BPD only requested 35 officers be added in the next five years.

“If somebody gave us 50 officers tomorrow, we wouldn’t be able to get them on board and through the training program,” he said. “We definitely feel we’re OK. We are getting everything we’ve asked for (from the city) and we are getting the officers that we need. And we are trudging along and doing our best and helping them adopt our culture.”

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Former Boise Mayor Brent Coles, a candidate for the seat this year, has made this report a major piece of his campaign, arguing that the city is behind on public safety obligations and should focus spending on adding to the officer ranks. Since the report was released, Boise has added over a dozen officers to its ranks and plans to continue adding five more each year until reaching 32 new officers.

Overall, roughly half of the new recruits hired have been people with no experience, and the other half are transferring from another agency. Regardless of experience, everyone completes the 22-week training academy.

This study was based on a formula developed by the Center for Public Safety at Northwestern University in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It uses a combination of information on workloads for each officer, performance goals and how much time each officer should have unscheduled so they can patrol or meet with community members. When the analysis was developed, BPD requested each officer have roughly a third of their time to be free for community policing.

“If all they do is answer calls for service, then there’s no time for traffic enforcement or general patrol looking for suspicious things going on or building relationships,” Winegar said. “If they’re just doing calls for service, then we think we’re in trouble.”

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At the time of the study, Boise’s number of officers compared to 29 similar departments across the country lagged behind. Although Boise is in the top third for population in this group, it’s below the average for officers per 1,000 residents. In 2016, BPD had 1.24 officers per 1,000 residents; the average was 1.44.

However, Winegar said the department experiencing low crime rates and has efficient policing because of relationships it has built with the community. One example he gave was Boise officers often quickly solve property crimes conducted by rings of thieves because of strong relationships with retailers and police departments in nearby cities.

Boise Police Department reported its lowest crime rates in 25 years in mid-July. Current response times to emergency calls are just below 4 minutes, and the average response, non-emergencies included, is 8 minutes and 15 seconds.

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Winegar said although the city is growing, the department has made changes to address responses to vehicle crashes. This includes changing shifts so more officers are on duty during rush hour when wrecks are more likely to happen, and more officers are on the Night STEP team that focuses on DUI enforcement.

“Traffic is not a new issue,” he said, “and I don’t think we have let it go or given up on traffic enforcement.”

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