Public Safety

Marion's police force needs to grow, chief says

He proposes 10 more officers over 5 years for fast-growing city

(File photo) Marion police Chief Joseph McHale talks Feb. 9, 2017, about research in social network analysis he used while at the Kansas City, Mo., police department that he hoped to implement in the Marion department. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
(File photo) Marion police Chief Joseph McHale talks Feb. 9, 2017, about research in social network analysis he used while at the Kansas City, Mo., police department that he hoped to implement in the Marion department. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MARION — The city needs to add 10 sworn officers and 12 civilian employees to its police department over the next five years to keep up with a growing population and more smartly deploy its resources, Chief Joseph McHale reported Tuesday to Marion City Council members.

The strategic plan overview during a work session of the council was the first of many presentations that will occur over the next few months, during which McHale will detail his goals for the department.

The department currently employs 44 sworn officers — 29 of whom function as patrol officers — and about 10 civilian employees.

“Marion is a fast-growing city,” McHale said. “And in order to meet the increased demand for police services, we have to grow with the city.”

McHale, who was sworn in as the city’s new chief on Dec. 15, 2016, has made several changes to the department’s operations, including establishing a beat structure — the city’s first ever — and partnering with the University of Iowa’s Public Policy Center on criminal intelligence and data-driven policing.

Many of the goals outlined in his plan include upgrading technology, restructuring the department, reorganizing staff and better prioritizing service calls and officer response.

All of these improvements, he said, hinge on the department’s ability to add more staff power.

McHale’s report included a study — conducted by researches at the University of Cincinnati Institute of Crime Science — that looked at the police department’s staffing levels, Marion’s growth rate, the volume of calls for service and the percentage of time per shift officers devote to responding to calls.

Marion has seen a slight fluctuation in calls for service over the past few years. According to the data, officers responded to 27,688 calls in 2014 and 26,337 calls in 2015. But in 2016, that number jumped to 29,386 calls for service.

Marion has seen a steady increase in population since 2000, growing from 26,294 residents to 34,768 in 2010. Today, the population is estimated at just over 38,000, a nearly 45 percent increase since 2000.

The police department, however, has not mirrored that growth, McHale said.

According to the study, the Marion department’s staffing levels are slightly below those of other agencies in communities of similar size. The study shows Marion has 1.2 police officers per 1,000 residents, compared with other similarly sized communities where departments average 1.35 officers per 1,000.

That may not seem like a significant difference, but for the Marion department, McHale said that slight disparity means the difference between pro-active community-oriented policing and officers spending their shifts running from one call to the next.

“Adding patrol officers would improve response times — especially during our busiest shifts — and would give each officer more time on their shifts to devote to proactive enforcement,” McHale said.

Additionally, the chief said more officers would enable the department to increase staff power per shift, freeing up supervising officers to actually act as supervisors — overseeing patrol staff and floating where needed. Currently, he said, patrol supervisors are spending a good amount of their time responding to calls and filling gaps in the patrol schedule.

“This is not just about wanting more staff,” McHale told the City Council. “This is a plan about the future of the police department — how we utilize current staff, how we utilize resources, and how we can increase efficiency, but we do need to add staff for over the next five years to achieve those goals.”

l Comments: 319-398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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