Questions about leadership, training, and basic competence track an array of unmet public safety needs that threaten small-town policing operations in communities across the U.S., USA Today reports. Half of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have fewer than 10 officers, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly three-quarters of agencies have fewer than 25 officers patrolling counties and towns where standards are uneven or non-existent. “So many problems of organizational quality control are made worse by the tiny size of most local police agencies,” University of Maryland criminologist Lawrence Sherman told the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing this year. The panel was created after the riots in Ferguson, where the operations of the town’s modest 53-officer department were excoriated in a Justice Department review.
That review, which concluded that Ferguson engaged in a pattern of racially biased enforcement, raised broader questions about the capacity of small communities to carry out crucial public safety responsibilities. Smaller agencies, the White House panel said, “often lack the resources for training and equipment accessible to larger departments.” “It’s no accident,” Sherman said in an interview, “that the (law enforcement) problems that emerged last summer came from a small police department like Ferguson.” Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum said, “No other country in the world has this model (of de-centralized policing).” He added: “Bigger is by no means better and large agencies have their own set of challenges, but there is a strong argument to be made to consolidating smaller agencies to form regional consortiums.”