How Many Police Officers Does a Community Need?


Jacob Resneck/KMXT

Is Kodiak over policed? And how does this community stack up against similar sized cities in Alaska? KMXT’s Jacob Resneck compared numbers from police departments in Sitka and Ketchikan to see how Kodiak compares.

— police comparison pkg 6:57 "Numbers can only … I’m Jacob Resneck."

Numbers can only tell part of a story but it seemed like a good place to start. The city of Kodiak currently has 17 full-time police officers and is looking to hire one more. The city of Ketchikan has 21 officers and Sitka has 19 officers. But when population is factored in, Kodiak has the highest police-to-population ratio of the three communities. That’s especially true when the Coast Guard’s 22 military police officers and six state troopers are factored in.

Kodiak City Police Chief T.C. Kamai says over policing is a common perception.

— kamai1

But Kodiak isn’t alone in this respect. Sitka’s Police Chief Sheldon Smith says the size of his department is often scrutinized.

— smith2

That’s true in Ketchikan too, says Police Chief Ed Talik. But he argues Ketchikan’s annual influx of visitors brings his department closer in line with other departments and his 21 officers are busy.

— talik1

But experts caution against using police-to-population ratios as a yard stick for community needs.

— angell1

That’s John Angell, professor emeritus of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Justice Center. He’s a veteran police administrator whose academic specialty is rural policing.

— angell6

Such minute details aren’t available, though KMXT did compare the three city’s workload in terms of calls for service and arrests. In 2010, the Kodiak Police Department took 8,333 calls for service or about 463 calls per officer. In Ketchikan there were about 453 calls per officer; Sitka’s rate was much higher with 960 calls per officer.

Sitka is different in that its city police department handles the entire borough. There the state trooper presence is limited to a training academy. Chief Sheldon Smith.

— smith4

In Ketchikan and Kodiak it’s a different story. Kodiak’s detachment of six troopers received 3,005 calls for service and made on average 33 arrests per trooper which is actually a higher ratio than Kodiak’s city police. But Alaska State Trooper Lt. Michael Duxbury, the deputy commander for much of western Alaska cautions against comparing trooper statistics with local police agencies.

— duxbury4

Another interesting comparison is expenditures. All three cities have spent about $4 million annually on their departments in the past three years. Only Kodiak broke the $5 million barrier for its operating budget. That was in 2010 and coincides with the opening of the expanded jail.

— kamai5

One department has trimmed its staff. Smith says he’s experienced cut backs.

— smith1

Talik says his department enjoys strong support from the city council and feels his department’s workload is comparable with other cities.

— talik3

And Chief Smith in Sitka agrees that the three departments’ structure is in some ways, similar.

— smith3
Comparing police numbers between cities is an interesting exercise but Kamai says there’s a limit on how illustrative raw numbers can be when comparing police departments.

— kamai6

That said all three chiefs say they are regularly comparing notes with each other to see what works and what doesn’t when structuring their department and requesting funds from elected officials.

I’m Jacob Resneck


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