The city of Raleigh’s police force is growing more slowly than its population. The city hadn’t added officers for six years prior to 2014, and even those nine new hires came alongside tens of thousands of new residents.
Now Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown says it might be time to play catch-up.
“I think that we are beginning to turn the corner,” she said in a wide-ranging interview on Monday morning at The News & Observer office, two years to the month after she officially became head of the department.
Raleigh now has about 1.79 police officers per 1,000 people, according to budget estimates from last year. That’s down from about 1.94 per 1,000 in 2010 and 2011.
“Well, it could become a problem for the city,” Deck-Brown, 50, acknowledged when asked about the effects of the downward trend. “... There’s no national standard in terms of officers per capita. What we would like for it to be is definitely a lot closer to the (2 per 1,000 residents) number.”
City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said the need for new officers is apparent, but the budget will be tight, especially with the city’s loss of millions in “privilege tax” dollars.
“I think we should have hired more than we did last year,” Baldwin said. “We have some challenges. We don’t have enough officers downtown.”
However, Deck-Brown said the department has weathered the last few years well. It has avoided layoffs and has continued to fill vacancies. The city’s crime rate also is at a recent low.
The police department isn’t alone in its slow growth. The recession brought a tremendous slowdown in city hiring. While Raleigh’s workforce grew by a total of nearly 20 percent from 2005 to 2009, it expanded by just less than 3 percent between 2010 and 2014.
Moreover, the chief said she has tried to make good use of the officers available, through technology and strong relationships with the community.
“What that forced us to do, at that time, is look at how we can provide the same level of service, as well as look at how we can simply police smarter,” she said.
One strategy is the use of analytical programs to track crime.
“Where is the likelihood that that crime will occur again?” Deck-Brown asked.
The department’s technology includes some cellphone tracking gear, she said, but emphasized that the department only uses the equipment when it has a court order.
“It’s also important to know that equipment is not just used for the sake of taking it off the shelf,” she said. “We have to be prudent in what we do, and we have to use it wisely.”
The city also has deployed automated license-plate readers that can search for vehicles associated with suspects and criminals, she said.
Deck-Brown emphasized human relations as the core of her policing style.
Responding to a question about the recent shootings of three Muslim American students in Chapel Hill, she said that her department helped with security and traffic at the funerals of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha on the campus of N.C. State University.
“It’s not in the crisis that you build the relationship,” she said. “You build it beforehand.”
Closing out an hour’s discussion, she called on the city’s population to join police.
“We can’t do it without helping,” Deck-Brown said. “That’s everything from reporting crime when they see it, to being proactive in helping us protect this city and protect ourselves.”