St. Paul police study finds they need more than 100 additional officers and support staff to fulfill their duties

In a recent article for the Pioneer Press, I wrote that “to meet the national average of 2.4 sworn officers per 1,000 residents (a statistic taken directly from St. Paul budget documents), the city should add 115 new officers next year.” A new study from St. Paul Police confirms that.

The study, compiled by Cmdr. Jack Serier at the request at the request of the City Council, recommends adding 78 sworn personnel, including 33 sergeants, and another 25 full-time employees to fill administrative roles, as well as restructuring several investigative units to keep pace with growing caseloads. While the study doesn’t include cost estimates associated with the recommendations, Serier said each additional police officer requires approximately $90,000 to $110,000 for salary and benefits.

Cmdr. Serier’s recommendations may be no more than the department needs to adequately fulfill its duties. Reports of aggravated assaults, rapes, and robberies in St. Paul fell in 2018 while property crime reports grew by nearly 12%. The overall effect was a drop in violent crime of 10%. However, the city’s 30 homicides were the most in more than twenty years. And, as the study finds, between 2013 and 2018, the number of 911 calls in St. Paul rose 31%. In 2018, more than 5,000 high-priority 911 calls could not be dispatched within 30 seconds because not enough officers were available to respond.

Even so, these proposals are likely to find little support from the city’s government. Mayor Melvin Carter’s 2020 budget actually reduced the maximum number of sworn officers from 635 to 630, after staffing increases in both 2018 and 2019. And, instead of funding more officers or gunshot-detection technology, Mayor Carter proposed an additional $1.7 million for youth employment and outreach, recreation center programs, and streetscape improvements.

A friend of mine in the St. Paul police department tells me that morale among the officers is suffering from what they perceive as a lack of support from city government. How that government responds to this report – one it commissioned – will tell them a lot.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.