Twin Cities suburb Roseville, Mn., has a worse per capita crime rate than St. Paul. In response, the city has approved hiring two more patrol officers, bringing the force to 50. Will two more cops on the streets make a big difference? There are conflicting studies, writes St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario. A recent Princeton University study compared municipalities that received federal funds to hire cops from 2005-09 with those that did not. The cities that boosted cop staffing levels by 3.2 percent experienced crime levels that were 3.5 percent lower than other cities. Researcher Steven Mello concluded that “an additional police officer prevents 1.9 robberies and 5.1 auto thefts, prevents 0.11 murders, and reduces the social costs of crime by $352,000.” Another report was more skeptical about the cause-and-effect influence of police staff levels on the crime rate. The collaboration by the Marshall Project, USA Today and the Memphis Commercial Appeal revealed that although the rate of police officers per 1,000 residents has been dropping for two decades nationally, the violent crime rate has also dropped during the same span.
Things get a little more difficult and trickier when it comes to homicides. St. Paul has seen a disturbing spike this year in homicides and shootings. There have been 27 homicide victims, 23 of them who died of gunfire. Mayor Melvin Carter is considering a supplemental budget for a “comprehensive” plan to curb violence. A recent John Jay College study on group violence dynamics in St. Paul found that three dozen violent street groups — comprising less than three-tenths of 1 percent of the population — were responsible for 36 percent of the homicides and 40 percent of nonfatal shootings in recent years. Police can’t do anything about spontaneous homicides of passion triggered by greed, money, jealousy, disrespect or vengeance, but they can do something about targeting those kinds of groups.