Former Police Chief Confirms our analysis: Carbondale is Over-Policed

The Carbondale Police Department is manipulating the statistics around calls for service in order to justify their excessively large police budget. We are over-policed, they know it, and they are stretching the definition of “calls for service” to justify their numbers and budget. And it is killing the town.

3/28/19: [This blog post has been updated to correct an error. A description of the correction can be found at the end.]

We have argued at length that Carbondale is over-policed for a city of its size. In response, Mayor Henry argued that the number of police in Carbondale is based not on population, but on ‘calls-for-service.’ We responded to that argument in detail, noting that the definition of “calls for service” used by the Carbondale police department includes all sorts of things one would not normally expect: car-washing, paperwork, and other administrative activities.*

Now we’ve received confirmation of our analysis from former Carbondale police chief, Jody O’Guinn. We’ll quote O’Guinn below, but a quick disclaimer: O’Guinn left Carbondale amidst numerous scandals. Our citing him here is not praise of his actions as a police chief. Further, O’Guinn may not agree with our full diagnosis and proposed solutions. It does help, however, to have our analysis regarding the CPD’s statistical manipulation confirmed by someone on the other side of the so-called “thin-blue-line.”

In an email forwarded to us, O’Guinn begins by clarifying that most police departments make a distinction between “contacts” (police-initiated encounters like pulling someone over) and “calls-for-service” (police services initiated by a call from citizens). He explains:

“If there is no mention of contacts, then all of the interactions are being lumped into the calls for service category, which will overinflate the calls for service. Some police administrators like doing it this way because it creates the illusion that the police are really busier than they actually are, which helps in convincing council members and the public that the police are overworked and understaffed, and that crime is running rampant.  That is how the CPD gets their numbers.”


O’Guinn goes on to describe how he began to suspect that the Carbondale Police Department was over-staffed:

“I found out by breaking down the calls for service and the contacts, I was able to drive down the numbers and show that officers were not as busy as they liked to publicize that they were.  Additionally, the time that the officers were actually tied up on a call for service was much less than the total hours of unencumbered time during their shift.   This meant that at least 60% of the time, officers were not on a call for service, and basically doing nothing.”

He notes that the statistical fudging in question — the blurring of “contacts” and “calls-for-service” — was the responsibility of then Assistant Chief Grubbs. He adds a word of caution about the situation:

“Grubbs is a master manipulator of statistical data. If he has any hand in it, you will most likely never get a true snapshot of the numbers, as he will finagle them to meet his needs.”

This is from the former police chief. You don’t need to think he did a great job to agree with what he’s laid out here. It is entirely clear from the Novak Report that the definition of “calls for service” has been expanded beyond recognition.

We’ll just make our allegation perfectly clear: the Carbondale Police Department is manipulating the statistics around calls for service in order to justify their excessively large police budget. We are over-policed, they know it, and they are stretching the definition of “calls for service” to justify their numbers and budget. And it is killing the town.

In a recent mailer, Mike Henry asserted that the police department should be “fully-staffed.” He doesn’t seem to understand the criticisms being leveled. No one is saying the police department shouldn’t be “fully-staffed,” we are saying that currently the police department is double-staffed. It should be “fully-staffed” by reducing its size by 50%, freeing up $5 million to transform Carbondale into a national leader tackling climate change, building an urban food system, and foregrounding compassionate solutions to social problems.

 

*CORRECTION: The first paragraph of this post originally ended with this line: “Also, each individual officer responding to a call counts as a distinct ‘call for service.’ For example, if three Carbondale police officers arrive on a scene to shoot a dog, that will be written up as 3 distinct calls for service — even if no one called for them to show up.”
This is false, and we offer our apologies for getting it wrong. Upon a closer read of the Novak report (pg. 58), the CPD distinguishes between “events” and “calls for service.” “Events” are recorded for each individual officer; “calls for service” are not.

The confusion arose from the fact that the Novak report filtered the ‘call for service’ data supplied by the CPD into “events,” and then broke those events down into “administrative,” “proactive,” and “reactive” events. It is difficult to discern how the number of events maps onto the ‘call for service’ numbers, since in the CPD’s reporting, many events classified by the Novak report as “administrative events” are included as “calls for service.”

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