Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams provided updates to City Council at their Oct. 21 retreat to discuss crime and policing at Lake Springfield Boathouse and at the Nov. 29 City Council meeting.
Although Springfield’s overall crime rate has not significantly increased despite continued population increases over the last 20 years, Williams acknowledged that the department considers it too high and is taking active and innovative steps to reduce it. A recent increase in violent crime, largely due to a trend of higher gun violence in Springfield, is a particular area of concern and focus.
“We had a goal of increasing our number of police officer applicants to 278 in 2021. I’m happy to report that we had 387 applicants. Out of those, we had 180 who signed up to come test or met the initial requirements,” Williams said Nov. 29. “We were shooting for an academy class of 20 for January. As of today, we hired 16 for that class. I have 10 more conditional offers. I’ve upped the ante and increased the goal for the next academy class to 25-30. We will follow up with another class in September and start testing for that class in January. Our academy is a six-month program followed by three months of field training, so these new officers will be in the field by late fall 2022.”
Williams said SPD’s goal for lateral hires (experienced police officers joining the department from another agency) is to have a lateral academy class of two officers twice a year.
“We have one officer already hired and three more in process,” he said. “Our recruiting efforts are reaping dividends already and I hope that’s going to continue. A nationwide marketing and recruitment campaign kicked off Dec. 1, so we expect to see some positive results from those efforts as well.”
Crime prevention and reduction
To reduce crime, proactive prevention is the goal. Every member of the community plays a vital role in crime prevention, especially considering community-wide matters such as drug abuse and poverty contribute to instances of criminal activity. Neighborhood engagement also has the potential to prevent crime by increasing place attachment and quality of life by up to 60%.
Crime prevention and reduction also requires buy-in from stakeholders throughout the criminal justice system, including judges, county commissioners, City government, police, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and attorneys. Williams is in the process of reconvening the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC). The CJCC will provide an avenue to discuss and find solutions to issues related to crime in our community.
The SPD’s focus regarding crime prevention within the city is a data-driven approach. The department utilizes data to educate officers about crimes occurring in areas throughout the city so they can focus on hotspots and persons of interest and is working to enhance and improve those efforts. The priority is directing available resources effectively and efficiently, pre-emptively reducing the opportunity for crime to occur.
Two new tactics the department will employ to improve those efforts are Data-Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) and the newly funded Risk Terrain Modeling (RTM) which will Identify environmental conditions and features of the landscape that lead to opportunities for crime. Another example is the increased use of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CEPTD), which uses urban and architectural design and the management of built and natural environments to prevent crime from occurring.
The department has also utilized historical data to identify four types of crime, one per quarter, that significantly increase during those timeframes. In January, the SPD will implement an enhanced crime prevention strategy to focus on increasing awareness, education, and prevention of those crimes: Q1 stolen vehicles, Q2 residential and commercial burglaries, Q3 vehicle break-ins and Q4 robbery.
Technology plays an invaluable role in crime prevention. The SPD currently utilizes a variety of technologically advanced tools to prevent and investigate crime, and additional resources will be deployed in the coming months. The department is continually exploring best practices from across the country that could be implemented in Springfield to enhance those efforts.
Williams is hopeful that a co-responder Mental Health Mobile Response Team will soon be implemented. Working with local agencies, such a program could partner Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers with a mental health professional to jointly respond to non-violent incidents involving mental health crises.
Finally, the SPD is currently experiencing a shortage of officers (51 vacant sworn positions). Low staffing allows little time for officers to take breaks during their shifts or proactively patrol the community.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police best practice model, 30% of a patrol officer’s time should be dedicated to responding to calls for service, 30% should go toward proactive measures, (i.e., officer-initiated activities including traffic stops and preventative patrol), and 30% of officer shift time should be dedicated to administrative duties, (writing reports and taking breaks), leaving 10% flex time to be utilized in any of those ways.
Due to staffing levels and call load, SPD officers were spending nearly 85% of their 10-hour shifts responding to calls for service, with about 14% of their shifts left for proactive patrol efforts. Just over 1% was left for administrative tasks, and no flex time left available. To address these issues, effective Jan. 2, officers moved to 12-hour shifts. This change provides more officers on the street, reduces individual officers’ workloads, and allow more time for proactive enforcement activities.