Plymouth Police Chief Joe Lawrence worked quickly to avoid politicizing the tragic death of officer Bradley Fox during his presentation at Plymouth Council's first budgetary meeting on Monday night.
"If I had 500 officers working on September 13, it wouldn't have made a difference," Lawrence said. "I'm not using that or saying that."
However, what Lawrence did say was that his police force was "running tired," after staffing has decreased from 49 officers in 1999 to 42 following Fox's death last month. Over the same time frame, the number of calls and recommended hours have nearly doubled, according to figures Lawrence presented to council.
In 2001, the township commissioned a study by the defunct Public Administrative Service to review the department and make suggestions about its command structure and staffing. The study found that the department responded to 11,227 calls in 2001, requiring a total of 33,680 officer hours. At the time, the department appeared to be well-staffed, with 29 patrol officers to handle a load recommended for no fewer than 21.
Other staff, such as administrative personnel and detectives, brought the total to 49.
Lawrence compared that to figures in 2011, when calls had nearly doubled to 21,442, and the number of hours to 64,326. Using the same formula, it would be recommended the department employ about 39 patrol officers, while it presently has only 24.
Lawrence also presented the following figures to show how Plymouth's annual operations compare to nearby townships:
|Township (pop./ # of officers)||Criminal Arrests||Part I Crimes (homicide, assault, theft, etc.)||Part II Crimes (fraud, weapons, DUI, drugs, etc.)||Motor Veh. Arrests|
|Plymouth Twp. (16,525 / 42)||829||726||935||5,504|
|East Norriton (13,590 / 29||400||302||725||2,360|
|Whitemarsh (17,349 / 38)||535||255||677||1,601|
|Whitpain 18,875 / Unknown)||491||273||246||2,691|
*All figures for 2010. Number of officers unofficially pulled from dpt. websites.
Lawrence said that he has had to reduce his highway patrol from five officers to two, in order to effectively staff regular patrols. Often, he said, this still leaves him short of his ideal staffing levels.
"There was a Sunday night bank robbery, and I had two officers working and a sergeant," Lawrence said, adding he had just two additional officers on September 13, the night Officer Fox was killed. "And that was the middle of rush hour."
Lawrence told council he was realistic in his expectations, but asked that they approve the hiring of enough officers to get the department to 46 total officers in 2013. Council said they'd have to review the request, but did vote unanimously to approve testing with the Civil Service Board, essentially to create a pool of possible candidates should they vote to approve new hires.
"We have to walk before we run as council and take all this under advisement," councilman Dean Eisenberger said. "But I think as council we should immediately approve the testing."
Council must work against the backdrop of an initial projected $1.3M budget shortfall for 2013, before consideration of additional requests from all departments.