Preface: I offer this piece as a beginning for an outline for peace. It speaks to police reform, but it starts with an attempt at explanation of a conflict that may be settled down in some way but never will be settled. Police departments are organic organizations, very complicated structurally, organizationally, and operationally. Most importantly, unlike modern technology which is replacing people with machines, police department are human dependent.
You should read last week’s blog , “If You’re White You Can’t Understand,” as a companion piece. It is my hope that you will have questions and that you will ask them. I will, to the best of my ability, answer them. So, read on.
Defunding (not reforming) the police is a stupid idea, a reflex response to stupid things done by some police officers. Defunding police will ultimately hurt worse the people they are intended to protect. As Major Alfred Musco, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (ret) said to me, “Good policing is expensive.” The “good” part comes later, but let’s start with expensive. Regardless of what kind of police department one envisions, it needs cars. The average cost of a police equipped car is $30,000, certainly not exorbitant. However, they get the hardest kind of driving there is, generally stop and go city street driving so the cost of maintaining a fleet is stupendous, so expensive that some department maintain their own garages and certified mechanics. And gasoline costs? Forgeddaboutit. Some departments are switching to all natural gas motors, some to hybrids.
Regardless of how one’s views the use of them, officers need hand guns and long guns. They need to be able to make a fair fight out of exchanges with heavily armed, sometimes military trained assailants. The cost: for a police issue Glock 9mm we’re talking $500 plus about $1.20 per round.
Police routinely carry AR-15 long guns. They are semi-auto-matic. That means they shoot fewer bullets and shoot them more slowly that the automatic pistols with extended magazines their attackers shoot. It is a citizens’ safety issue and also keeps a panicked officer from just leaning on the trigger. Depending on the model, they go for $500-$2,000. A thousand rounds costs about 28 cents if bought by the thousand. And let’s not forget the practice range where the average session sees an officer shoot 200-500 rounds per practive session. You do the math. Some departments are holding fewer practice sessions per year than they used to as a cost-cutting measure.
What about a vest for protection and the now all important body camera? A vest costs roughly $500, way more if you want one that will shot a high-power long gun round. They also weigh a ton and are hot as hell to wear.
The body cam system, that could end up being required by law, costs about $1,000. The camera is the least of that, about $140. Training is a small cost as is maintenance. Storage of the contents is the back-breaker. Another math exercise. The New York City police department has 35,000 sworn officers. Since the cost of the unit doesn’t change, the hit is harder the smaller the department.
Let’s look at two specialized pieces of equipment the shot-spotter and the APC. The shot spotter enables a department to tell within a narrow radius where a shot was fired. Thus when a “shots fired” call comes, they know where to start looking without a great waste of time and energy thus better ensuring citizen safety and their own. Having one isn’t enough, but just for the record a single system costs $65-90,000 per square mile, plus $10,000 per square mile one time installation and service fee. To be effective, a department needs several of them.
Let’s look at one of the most common and ubiquitous pieces of police equipment, the motorcycle. Used for multiple assignments–traffic enforcement, participating in and controlling crowds during parades, getting to a call in a place where a cruiser might not fight or be able to get to at all, in diplomatic protection on the street where cops have gotten seriously injured or killed protecting the president or vice-president of the United States. Because of their multiple uses and having so much packed into such a little body, they are expensive. Some run from 100,000 dollars to upwards of $300,000. The corporate competition with foreign cycle companies is pinching the toes of the ever-popular, iconic Harley.
Clearly, not every department needs an armed personnel carrier (APC), but in an area of multiple, small towns and smaller police departments there should be one in the neighborhood. Sheriff’s Office or State Police come to mind. The ability of police departments to purchase at fire sale prices military weaponry needs oversight, but when a human-trafficking ring or drug gang with its millions in stash is holed up in a house armed with up to the moment weaponry protecting it by people wiling to die for it, an APC allows strategic and tactical planning unavailable to a commander who only has police cars and officers on foot to work with. Departments are going towards a combined vehicle that is a rolling emergency operations center They can cost upwards of a half million dollars.
In the old days SWAT officers were assigned to regular units and kept their SWAT gear in the trunk. When they got a call they left their unit. The problem was several fold. One was not everyone arrived at the same time and then the unit had to dress up out of their trunk and be briefed. Another was saavy guys on the street know which cars were SWAT cars and would jimmy the trunks and steal stuff you would not be happy to have on the street. So now we have SWAT units and SWAT trucks for $188,00-$250,000. Add to this the bomb truck A bomb truck built to handle most anything that isn’t dropped from 50,000 feet in the air costs upwards of $400,000. The option? Look up the Oklahoma City bombing.
Two more things presented differently than how you see them on TV. A dog. Most police dogs come from over seas; their lineage can be traced back for generations. They cost about $8000 a piece. Add $500 if you want them to have a vest. Forget what you see on TV. In Palm Beach County our dogs are trained to find drugs, to find money (yes money), to find bodies, dead or alive, and yes track and detain criminals. We have a dog, now retired, who took three bullets for his handler when he detected an ambush an flew through the air at the shooter. The tracking of the bullets shows the dog saved the officer’s life. And don’t forget training for all of the above.
And the horse. The police horse is about 3/4 thorough bred for agility and 1/4 draft horse for strength. You see them for crowd control, but they also spend a lot of time getting their noses petted by little boys and girls. In a place like Florida where many departments combine urban, suburban, and wild lands pokicing the horse is indispensable. If a dog is chasing a suspect through the brush or woods the officer can hear the dog but not see it nor the suspect. If the suspect is being chased by a horse the officer is 11 feet higher in the air. It is safer and faster. And expensive. Horses are cheap, Maybe 8000 grand; some are donated. Their maintenance is murder: food, training, a training rink, a barn, horse vans to get them where they are needed, and sleeping quarters for the overnight unit. That’s about $200.000 a year a unit.
There is such a thing as being over-equipped, things bought just because they could be and ending up on the shelf, so-to-speak. The real issue however is again, (see last week’s blog) training. When to use, how to use. A department may only use bomb-disposal equipment once a year and maybe for a real bomb once every few years. However that one time, if the officer isn’t properly trained, “BOOM,” he or she dies as do possibly scores of innocents in the blast radius.
Probably the most widely viewed piece of film over the last few days was the misuse of an army helicopter violating all kinds of rules and regulations. It was flying below 1,000 ft trying to blow spectators out of the area with blade wash. Police departments have “air forces” also. Usually a large department will have one or two ‘copters and maybe that many fixed wing craft. They are excellent for catching highway speeders, guiding cops on the ground, they are excellent for finding the robber at night running through you neighborhood, they are excellent for getting to a disaster in “double time.”
And brother are they expensive. Used correctly, like covering a county the size of Palm Beach or Miami Dade, they are a must. Push the cash register keys and the number comes up: depending on the model, they go for a half million to 3 million dollars, plus 200-400 dollars an hour in the air. The pilots must be certified, trained, and have routine training themselves. They are another unit that needs barracks.
A tempered reallocation of budget resources reported to a committee of community leaders ie presidents of ethnic and racial organizations mixed with professionals from different departments could review and have input on such a reallocation. Followed by the National Sheriff’s Association, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, one of the most well-trained, well-respected, and experienced Sheriff’s in the country had this to say at a civic engagement: “I’m tired of being the most highly paid social service agency in the county…It isn’t right.”
His officers average about a dozen mental health calls a day and that year they totaled 3,700. That’s 3,700 times a police officer wasn’t able to deal with patrolling a sector or responding as quickly as possible to a crime. And where do the people go? Why jail of course, where there are even fewer people trained in the intricacies of dealing with mental health problems. The arrestee sits in jail until the case is heard because he/she can’t afford bail, and in a short time is back on the street and the cycle begins again.
What we should be talking about breaks down into two categories. One is criminal justice reform to include police department reform. That reform needs more money and time spent on recruitment and training. The second is mental health reform. Every department should have a mental health unit on call, trained, licensed civilians or access to an on-call outside group of professionals. In addition the nation must pull itself away from the Victorian Age attitude that Charles Dickens wrote about so graphically and deal with the modern actuality of mental health. It is after all the 21st century for health care.
Yes it all costs money. Some of that money will have to come from city, county and state coffers. Some can and should come from a reallocation of a police department’s budget. Even the low-hanging fruit, figuring out the mental health expenditures and putting them into training and recruitment, will yield significant dollars and results. In some budgets there will be money that can be cut from “ropin’ and ridin’ uses and allocated to mental health uses administered either by the department, contracted for by the department, or just reallocated to local mental health facilities with trained crisis counseling units. For real progress, some cuts will have to cut closer to the bone, but they need not impact the effectiveness of law enforcement and should increase its efficiency. None of it should be done as punishment and stigmatization of those who serve but with a mind to helping them serve better particularly the least among us–at least from my perspective.
William A. Gralnick has served over 40 years as a police consultant and trainer to small departments and some fairly large ones. He has worked with police in the Boston/Cambridge area, the Stamford, Ct area, Greater Atlanta, Greater Miami, and several cities in Palm Beach County Florida. He was asked by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review and comment on its initially 16-hour, two day ethnic/cultural training curriculum and then taught it. For seven years he was employed by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the 12th largest Seriff’s Department in the County. Questions and comments can be left here or on his author’s website, williamgralnickauthor.com Read this: it will be good for all of us.