The Berkeley Police Department is asking the public for input as it analyzes its current staffing resources and reconsiders how it deploys officers around the city.
This week, the city posted a survey online to collect feedback about what kind of services community members want, and what their priorities are.
The main question is not whether the city should hire more officers. But, rather, the city wants to know: Would community members prefer a larger beat that’s always staffed, or a smaller beat that sometimes has no assigned officer? That approach is, perhaps, understandable given the city’s current budget situation, and the fact that even a new officer hired on to the department makes over $100,000 a year once all is said and done.
The city has hired Mountain View-based Matrix Consulting Group to help oversee the public process and create a strategy for police staffing going forward.
City Manager Christine Daniel sent a memo to the Berkeley City Council this week to explain the “beat realignment” process and share some of the history that has brought the city to this point.
The city has used its current patrol beat configuration since 1993. The idea behind the map is that each beat has one officer assigned to it per shift, and that the workload across beats is relatively even. So busier parts of town were chopped into smaller beats, and neighborhoods with fewer calls for service — among other criteria — were designed to be larger.
When the beat map was created it was based “primarily on crime trends, calls for service, crime statistics, and staffing levels,” according to Daniels’ memo. Those factors have changed in the past two decades, while the beat map has remained the same.
Now, with police staffing levels down significantly over the past two decades, the department is taking a hard look at how it allocates its limited resources. During the 1990s, the department had approximately 207 sworn positions. It currently has approximately 167. Subtract from that an estimated 10-12 officers who may be out with injuries at any given time.
Under current staffing levels, numerous beats are regularly left “open” because there simply aren’t enough bodies per shift to go around. That doesn’t mean that officers don’t respond to those areas if trouble arises, but it may mean slower response times or less proactive enforcement as resources are concentrated elsewhere.
Officers say current staffing levels are leading to open beats — often in the hills, because calls for service are so much lower there — on a much more regular basis than ever before.
Behind the scenes, the city has been discussing the issue of beat realignment since at least late 2012. This week marks the city’s first explanation of what that process will entail, and how the public can weigh in.
According to the city manager’s March 25 memo, “Matrix will analyze population, geography, patrol deployment, staffing levels, officer workload, calls for service, proactive patrol time, response times, crime data, industry standards and best practices and the need for flexible units to respond to identified crime trends, as well as the costs associated with service delivery. Additionally, Matrix will assess community perceptions and priorities through the use of surveys and community meetings.”
Recommended changes to the beat map will take various factors into account: the even distribution of workload, boundaries that reflect “efficient routes of travel,” and the minimization of both natural barriers and neighborhood divisions.
Proposed changes will come before the Berkeley City Council for review and discussion later this year.
The department is asking anyone who lives or works in Berkeley, and also visitors to the city, to fill out a brief survey to share their thoughts and ideas. The deadline for responses is April 11.
According to a brief introduction that precedes the survey, “the study is designed to ensure the best allocation of existing patrol resources rather than add new staff.”
The introduction also promises anonymity for participants, adding, “there are no identifiers.”
Anyone who has questions about the survey can call Matrix project manager Richard Brady at 650-858-0507, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. (According to his bio on the Matrix website, Brady is also the company’s president, and has completed more than “300 organizational and staffing studies of every local government service” during his 30 years of experience.)
Council members have each been asked to set up a community meeting for their district, where both Matrix and Berkeley Police staff will present information about the beat analysis and seek community input.
Daniel said in the memo that the results of the process will be presented at a council meeting before the fiscal year ends June 30.
[Editor’s Note: The original headline of this story was updated to better reflect the unfolding beat realignment process.]
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