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Study will shine light on police needs

The St. Petersburg Police Department wants to know how many new officers it should hire.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Before budgeting money for more patrol officers, city policymakers must first decide exactly what they want from their police force. How fast should response times be? How much free time should officers have to tackle neighborhood problems?

Only then will police administrators be able to tell the City Council how many more officers the city needs, said management consultant Peter Bellmio.

"These are big dollars," Bellmio told a group of 65 officers, residents and city officials gathered Wednesday night at St. Petersburg Junior College Allstate Center. "Time is money."

Bellmio, who examines police staffing across the country, has been hired by the St. Petersburg Police Department to assess calls for service, response times and the number of units sent to calls.

For four straight years, budgets have allotted for 538 sworn officers. The department has 497 on the street, up to 35 cadets and recruits, and six openings.

But by the end of this year 41 officers will be eligible to retire in St. Petersburg, making hiring an urgent concern.

"We need to put people into the system faster than they leave," said Chief Goliath Davis III.

Over the next 90 days, Bellmio will visit the city four times, using computer programs to crunch numbers. He will determine the busiest times of day for calls and compare his data with residents' requests for service and patrol officers' schedules. A report will be submitted in September and another presentation made to the public.

Bellmio studied patrol staffing in St. Petersburg after the 1996 civil disturbances. During that yearlong review, Bellmio found that most St. Petersburg patrol officers spent nearly half their shifts working on administrative tasks such as filling out reports and conducting field interviews.

Only a third of an officer's time was spent responding to emergency calls, and about 15 percent of an officer's shift consisted of discretionary time in which they were free to work on individual projects.

During Wednesday's presentation, he offered as an example a study he did of police staffing in Kansas City, Kan. That department had to hire an additional 18 officers to meet two goals: responding to calls in seven minutes and leaving 40 percent of an officer's shift uncommitted, so he or she could offer backup or work on problems.

"You pick," said Bellmio, who will be paid about $12,000. "You figure it out. You decide what you want to pay for."

It costs $80,000 and takes 18 months to put a new officer on the street.

Residents in St. Petersburg continue to call for more community police officers.

"We need more cops out on the job," Council of Neighborhood Associations president Jim Biggerstaff told Bellmio. "If you go in the neighborhoods in this city, they'll tell you response times are terrible, prostitution is up, yet we're told we've got enough police."

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