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How Many Police Officers Should A City Have?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Both inside and outside city halls, there's a debate about how many police officers should be on the streets.

Minneapolis wants to add 400 patrol officers by 2025. This year, the mayor's proposed budget adds 14. St. Paul wants to hire more officers as well to reach its current authorized strength of 630.

So, how many police officers should a city have? Good Question.

"There's not really a magic number," Michelle Phelps, a University of Minnesota sociology professor who researches policing, said. "The way that it's benchmarked is often in terms of population."

According to the FBI's 2016 Uniform Crime Statistics, Minneapolis has 20.3 officers per 10,000 people. Cities of similar size, like Tulsa and Oakland, have 18.4 and 17.6, respectively.

St. Paul has 20.6 officers per 10,000 people. Henderson, NV has 11.8 and St. Louis has 38.

The FBI defines officers as employees who "ordinarily carry a firearm and a badge, have full arrest powers, and are paid from governmental funds set aside specifically to pay sworn law enforcement."

According to Minneapolis Police, they have approximately 888 officers on the force, but only about 600 on the street. St. Paul says it has 578 deployable officers right now, 260 of them working patrol.

Phelps says much more needs to taken into account than simple population when determining police staffing levels.

"Crime matters, politics matter, how popular law enforcement is," she said.

Phelps says cities also have to consider geography, or how concentrated a city is, as well as how many tourists come through.

When WCCO talked with residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul, they brought up a number of issues they believe should be considered too -- like recent shootings, missed 911 calls, the possibility of officer-involved shootings, a focus on community policing.

"We should have more, but the right individuals that protect and serve," St. Paul resident Kiara Brantley said.

In an interview right after budget presentations to City Hall, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said, "It's important to look after the health and wellness of our officers; we're stretched too thin."

Phelps says the data on what happens with more police officers in a city is difficult to decipher.

"Our best social science says yes, dollars deployed toward policing when they're deployed well has positive effects on reducing crime," she said. "I think the problem is that extra officers don't come free, right?"

St. Paul says the annual cost for one officer is $100,000. Minneapolis says hiring, training and paying 14 new officers will cost $2.4 million.

"And, they have human costs, in terms of people being potentially arrested, potentially incarcerated and, at the extreme end, potential for police violence," Phelps said.

Minneapolis will take its final vote on its budget Dec. 11. St. Paul says its budget will be approved before next year.

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