Dallas Police officers. Photo by Elvert Barnes / Flickr.

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DPD’s Staffing Survey Was a Kick in the Jeans, and Council Got to Question It

KPMG went before the council and tried to get them to understand that data and strategy was more meaningful than hiring en masse.

This morning, the Dallas City Council got its first chance to question the KPMG researchers behind the deep dive into the police department that hit the city’s website on Friday afternoon. Some of the Council clearly had hoped for a simple number of officers to hire and appeared disappointed to find 300-plus pages detailing how bad data made that impossible. Especially considering the city spent half a million dollars and had to wait a year. However, we heard repeatedly on Monday, per capita staffing rates are not the preferred way to judge how effective your police department is, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It’s the bigger issues that need to be addressed.

Council member Cara Mendelsohn of Far North Dallas looked perplexed and bewildered at the paper’s findings, saying it showed a department in “disarray.” She said it made her want a glass of wine. Police Chief U. Reneé Hall, just hours after returning following more than a month of medical leave, simply said, “I don’t drink.” And then she got into it.

“This is a confirmation of what we’ve assessed since September 5, 2017, when I walked in the door understanding that there were some concerns. This is not all new information,” she said. “I am 600 officers fewer than I was three years ago.”

Well, yes, but KPMG also found that there was no standardization across the department for recording data. In many cases, that varied from unit to unit, which made it even more difficult for the company to analyze how effective the department’s deployments are.

According to the report, “It is evident that the DPD lacks a clear strategy and is more reactive to the issues of the day, rather than working toward a common long-term goal.” KPMG studied the Investigations Bureau and the patrol units. It found patrol staff “appear unclear of the overall strategic direction and mission for the department” and also said that the cops “receive conflicting direction” from their supervisors. It would also behoove the city to hire some more civilian employees to help out where they can; our makeup of sworn and civilians is below similarly sized cities. Those could be data analysts, technologists, project managers—all sorts of helpful, non-sworn support staff that could help ameliorate the department’s efficiency problems.

The Investigations Bureau, too, “lacks a clear crime strategy” and thus “staffing decisions are therefore made periodically and reactively.” And officers in investigations aren’t being guided by data or strategic intelligence, making it difficult to get ahead of the clearance rate that the FBI encourages city police departments to reach.

“The DPD has considerable work to do in order to achieve this ideal state,” the report concludes.

But about those numbers: Dallas has 27 cops per 10,000 residents, which is below the average of 30 per 10,000 that KPMG found among 14 other cities of a similar size. But, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police: “Ratios, such as officers-per thousand population, are totally inappropriate as a basis for staffing decisions.” Ian McPherson, KPMG’s North American Justice and Security Leader—and a former police chief himself—hit on that again and again in the meeting on Monday. So did his colleague, Caoimhe Thornton. Both insisted that the department must use data to structure staffing, to better understand where to put officers and when. The benchmarks that the Council likes are meant to be taken as “a point of reference.”

“If there is demand on the evening, you need to put your staff on the evening,” McPherson said, making a comparison to a restaurant. KPMG created a staffing tool that uses an algorithm to help maximize resources. It’s described as a “mathematical model” that can help the department know the “optimal schedule for each shift pattern.”

“I read we don’t have computers that work, we don’t have a clear strategy, we don’t have aligned goals, we don’t have consistent ways of doing things,” Mendelsohn said. “There’s a lack of leadership to address these issues, there is no structure in place to measure productivity … and somehow our patrol officers are getting conflicting information from their supervisors but still getting the job done.”

There are other folds we’re unaware of. As Councilman Lee Kleinman noted, the study didn’t dig into whether off-duty officers working for neighborhood associations—called Expanded Neighborhood Patrols, or ENP—had any impact on freeing up resources elsewhere in the city. Those are frequently used to help shore up patrols in more affluent neighborhoods around town. And the department is undergoing the process to be accredited via CALEA, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement. City Manager T.C. Broadnax said that should address some of the concerns with a lack of standardization and processes.

But there was one slide that underscores why this matters so much. Every major crime listed—murder, aggravated assault, and robberies of businesses and individuals—were up year-to-date. There have been 143 murders in Dallas so far, the most since 2007, which was the last time we logged more than 200. The title of the slide? “Still Have Work To Do.”

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