NAMPA – As crime in Nampa continues to decline, the police department estimates that there is a shortage of 42 officers.
The calculation is based on the desire to have 1.5 officers per 1,000 population, which, according to Nampa Police Chief Joe Huff, “was a quasi-national standard” with which the department stuck. Significant population growth in recent years has amplified the gap in the ratio. Now the police force, which has 134 officers and has 1.21 officers per capita, is trying to catch up.
“We’re behind where we want to be, but I can tell you that our city council and our mayor are definitely pushing us in the right direction,” Huff said. “We know where we need to go and it’s going to take time to get there. “
The department is stepping up efforts to source supplies, with a plan for eight new positions in Nampa’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022. The department also requested a federal grant that would pay for eight new positions for three years, allowing the department to develop in the short term and give city council time to plan for the long term.
Sixteen new posts in total would constitute progress towards eliminating the shortage of 42 officers. Even if city council approved all 42 positions, Huff said the department would not be able to fit that many at once.
With potentially 16 newcomers in a year, Huff said, “I just couldn’t ask for more than that.”
Former Nampa Mayor Bob Henry appointed Huff to his post in December 2015. That year, Nampa’s population was estimated at 89,210, according to the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS). This year, it is estimated at 110,980.
When Huff took over, the department was allowed to have 117 positions but only had 103. Huff recalled that Henry wanted to bolster the numbers. Since then, Nampa has added 39 officer positions and it is still difficult to meet her goals, Huff said.
In addition to officer positions, support staff has also increased. In the next budget cycle, it is also proposed to add four of these posts.
“The credit has to go to the mayor and the council because we seem to have it pretty well right now,” Huff said. “We ask and they don’t give us a hard time. They give us exactly what we need.
Although it falls short of its target of 1.5 agents per 1,000 population – which Huff says is a “well-thought-out” standard that the department has maintained based on the number of calls it receives – crime has declined in the community.
In 2019, Nampa launched a more proactive approach to policing that included analyzing data on when and where crimes were committed. The department immediately noticed a significant drop in crime. As of this week, Nampa PD had 201 fewer victims of Part 1 crimes like burglaries, rapes, robberies and assaults, compared to the same time last year. Huff called this “quite astonishing” given the city’s growing population.
“We’re definitely doing a good job,” Huff said, “but there’s so much more we could do if we ever hit that 1.5 number.”
At a June 7 city council meeting, while discussing a potential new real estate development, City Councilor Sandi Levi referred to police personnel as a factor in either approving or rejecting new developments.
“We’re so far behind, there’s no way we can catch up,” Levi said. “When I look at the reality of this, I look at law enforcement, when it is called to me or her, do they have adequate backup? And second, can they keep our community safe? We really have to take this into consideration. “
Based on the number of new homes already approved in the first half of 2021, assuming each home has 2.67 people, Huff said it would take 4.4 agents just to cover people who will be moving in a few years.
“It looks like we’re taking three steps forward and it’s not like we’re really winning anything,” Huff said. “We maintain but we do not win. We have put together a good strategic plan for the city on how we can get there.
Meridian Police Chief Tracy Basterrechea said her service was also short. The department has 129 staff, but only 113. He praised the city council for providing positions, but said there had been difficulties recruiting candidates.
Basterrechea said there were hundreds of applicants for one or two police stations. Now there could be around 50 or 60. After tests and background checks, the numbers are “generally pretty slim,” he said.
This is a concern for Basterrechea. He thinks the profession as a whole needs to better explain what it does.
With 113 agents, this equates to 0.88 per 1,000 population based on COMPASS’s population estimate of 127,890. Meridian staffing goals are based on a model of how often a person sees a patrol car in his neighborhood.
Basterrechea pointed out that the combination of population growth, turnover in the field and a decreasing number of applicants combine to create a staff shortage.
“We have to do a little better job,” Basterrechea said, “trying to figure out with the next generation of leaders, it seems people are a little easier to move from job to job rather than stick with a job for a career. I think we have to sell the benefits of what a career in law enforcement looks like. “
Caldwell Police Captain Devin Riley said his department had 76 officers, but he could “absolutely” use more. There was a position created recently and the department is in the process of filling it. Riley has been a captain for six years and due to retirements, turnover and the training of new recruits, he said it was rare for the department to be fully staffed.
The 76 officers are equivalent to 1.19 officers per 1,000 inhabitants based on a population estimate of 63,760.
There were 21 candidates who attended Caldwell’s test day last week. Eighteen went to the interview part. Years ago, Caldwell drew between 75 and 100 applicants for positions. The low numbers are fine for one position, but Riley said he would be worried if he hired for a handful of positions at a time.
In the Boise Police Department, there are about 300 officers, which works out to about 1.26 officers per 1,000 people. The department wants to both increase that number and keep pace with population growth, spokeswoman Haley Williams said in an email.
In April, Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee told City Council the police department will potentially need to hire an additional 100 officers by 2031 to keep pace.
Finding the money to support these positions is up to municipal governments. In Nampa, Huff acknowledged elected leaders for trying to meet his demands.
Nampa officers underwent training on Thursday. It could take about eight months for new hires before they even hit the road. Once there is a hole in the staffing, it is difficult to eliminate it.
In Nampa, however, the staff situation has not prevented crime from decreasing.
“With crime continuing to drop, as the population grows,” Huff said, “this tells you the right formula is in place right now.”
Paul Schwedelson covers Growth, Nampa and Caldwell. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.