In D.C. Police Level Debate, Expert Says “It’s More Art Than Science”


With Washington, D.C., in a fiscal crunch, Mayor Vincent Gray says the police force, now 3,880 officers, should dip under 3,600 by September 2012. That level of policing — about what the city had in 2001 — has stoked crime concerns that have bordered on fearmongering, says the Washington Post. City Council member Jack Evans says it should be 4,000 — and 4,200 would be better. Police Chief Cathy Lanier says the city needs at least 3,800, and city police union chief Kristopher Baumann and council member Phil Mendelson agree,

If you assume the formula is more officers equal less crime, it's not that simple. “It is more art than science,” said Ed Maguire, an American University criminology professor who has studied police staffing. In 2000, Maguire and a colleague reviewed 27 studies that attempted to link the size of a police force with crime rates. Almost half of the studies found no relationship between the two. Of the remainder, more found that crime increased as police levels rose. “I have visited a lot of police departments in my life. I can't remember ever visiting one that didn't say they needed more cops,” Maguire said. There are often more important determinants of public safety than the number of police officers per capita — poverty levels, education levels, the economy, population density, income inequality. That's one reason why there is no national standard for police staffing.

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