The Carbondale Spring has helped shape the current mayoral election debate. At the most recent Mayoral forum, hosted by Women 4 Change, numerous questions were posed to the candidates regarding the size of the police budget. We have argued that Carbondale is significantly over-policed, based on a comparison between Carbondale and the national average, as well as similarly sized college towns in Illinois. Our argument is based on the ratio of police to residents, and we use statistics from the FBI, which apparently believes that is a relevant comparison.

Mayor Mike Henry, however, dismissed population as a relevant factor in evaluating the size of the police department. During the forum, he said that the city of Carbondale paid a “handsome fee” to get an outside consulting firm to evaluate the police department, and that firm concluded that they were understaffed. The basis of their evaluation was, first, the amount of “community policing” the city wanted, and second, the number of “calls for service.”

We’ll leave “community policing” for a later post, but for now we want to focus in on this concept of “calls for service.”

When you think of “calls for service,” what comes to mind? Very likely, you imagine a 911 call, right? And it makes sense that you would imagine that, because, according to the Police Data Initiative (“a law enforcement community of practice that includes leading law enforcement agencies, technologists, and researchers”),

Calls for service to law enforcement agencies generally include calls to “911” for emergency assistance and may also include calls to non-emergency numbers.

So, calls for service usually includes not only 911 calls, but also things that might be solved by people who aren’t police. As we’ve suggested in our Care Worker initiative, many 911 calls may also be better handled by people who aren’t police. But that’s not what we want to point out here.

The Carbondale Police Department seems to have, let’s say, a very expansive definition of “calls for service.” According to the Novak Consulting Group’s report (pg 59), referenced by Mayor Henry,

Typically, calls for service could be distilled based on priority, since higher priority calls (Priority 1 and Priority 2) are reactive in nature, but that is not the case in Carbondale. Some report writing, car wash, and other administrative and proactive activities are categorized as Priority 1 in the system

That is, not only do activities like “car washing” and administrative tasks count, according to the Carbondale Police Department, as “calls for service,” but in fact they count as Priority 1! The Novak Consulting Group even notes that this is not in line with how things are typically measured.

But let’s take a step back, shall we.

In 2008, the Carbondale Police Department recorded 33,589 total “calls for service.”

In 2015, the Carbondale Police Department recorded 77,032 total “calls for service,” as cited by the Novak Report — which used “calls for service” as one of the major components for evaluating the size of the police department.

Isn’t it interesting that in the years leading up to this evaluation, the number of “calls for service” more than doubled. Those were also years, of course, during which the population of the town was very likely declining.

We’ve been told — but can’t confirm — that the Carbondale Police Department actually greatly expanded its interpretation of the concept of “calls for service” during these years. Why? That would be a good question for Mayor Henry, who seems to have not looked very closely at the consulting report he commissioned, and for which the city paid a “handsome fee.”

For what its worth, Nathan Colombo has admitted that the police department is way too big, and endorsed the Carbondale Spring as a way to right-size the police force while finding creative and compassionate ways to improve quality of life in the city.