The decision about how many police officers, support staff, solicitors, judges, clerks and other personnel are enough to keep a city safe can be a difficult balancing act.
Certainly the consequences of having too few people are worse than those of having too many. But law enforcement employees can be expensive, police officers in particular.
The Rock Hill City Council is considering hiring 18 more city employees next year. Eight of them would work in the city’s Law Center on Black Street in downtown, whose long-overdue expansion is in the final stretch.
Rock Hill’s management staff told the council this month that four more police officers and two administrative assistants are needed in the Police Department. Just adding four more officers would cost the city about $310,000 a year, which includes the officers’ salaries, equipment and police vehicles.
City Manager David Vehaun said he also will recommend hiring a new court clerk and a full-time assistant solicitor to prosecute criminal cases. They are needed to help take care of a surge in traffic violations and criminal charges, said Vehaun.
The Police Department recently increased the number of officer patrol zones in the city from six to nine by shrinking the size of existing zones. With four more officers, the number of zones would rise to 10.
The Police Department currently is short-handed but hopes to fill vacancies soon. With four more officers on patrol and smaller zones, the number of police would be more concentrated citywide.
The change also would improve response times and make it easier for officers to learn their beats. Overall, law enforcement coverage would be better, said Vehaun.
He also notes that the process of hiring and training new officers can take a long time. The new recruits must be certified through the South Carolina Criminal Justice academy, which often has a waiting list.
They also must receive on-the-job training before they become seasoned officers. If the department is continually short of its needed contingent of officers, that can decrease the police presence in the community and put added stress on everyone in the department.
We depend on Police Chief Chris Watts and others in the department to provide a realistic assessment of personnel needs. And it’s logical that, as the city’s population grows, so will the need for more officers.
As Vehaun noted, the reason for more court employees would be to keep up with the growing caseload. That doesn’t mean that more crime is occurring, but rather that police are more effective at doing their jobs.
If putting more police on the street can make us appreciably safer, it will be money well spent.