Expert: Rock Hill needs more police officers

A Rock Hill patrol car moves out of the department parking area Thursday afternoon.
A Rock Hill patrol car moves out of the department parking area Thursday afternoon.

Rock Hill should hire 21 more police officers, close the city-run jail and consider building a new law enforcement center, a consultant recommended to city leaders Thursday night.

In a long-awaited report delivered at City Hall, national police consultant Carroll Buracker pointed to slow response times as evidence that Rock Hill needs more officers.

Officers take an average of 12 minutes to respond to high-priority calls, a figure well above the recommended time of five minutes.

More officers ahead?

Mayor Doug Echols and others embraced the call for more officers, saying an expert opinion helped clarify what they already suspected.

Echols called it a validation of Police Chief John Gregory's requests.

"The chief has said all along he needs more officers," Echols said. "We've heard that. And yet I think now, with an outside review, it makes sense as to how we would place those people."

But the city could have reached the same conclusions without paying an outsider, City Councilman Kevin Sutton said.

"For the last two years, the city manager would not bring forward the chief's request for additional officers," Sutton said afterward. "Instead, we paid $80,000 for a consultant to tell us to hire more officers."

Asked whether city administrators would now be compelled to add officers, Sutton said: "I don't see how they can't. Then, it really looks like they wasted $80,000."

Buracker's firm spent five months interviewing local officials, speaking with business owners and poring over crime numbers to project current and future staffing needs. The City Council put up $78,750 to hire the firm.

"Once you get to the level I've recommended, you might be OK for quite a number of years," Buracker said.

City Manager Carey Smith signaled that money for new officers could show up in next year's budget, though it's too soon to get into numbers. Currently, the city has 124 sworn officers.

"We could've guessed how many people we need," Smith said. "But would that have been the right approach? I don't think so. It (the study) gives us a model for being able to make those decisions in an informed way."

The department has added 19 sworn officer positions since Smith became city manager in 2002.

Firm: City should close jail

Adding more officers was one in a sweeping list of proposals given to Rock Hill leaders:

• The city should "get out of the jail business" by closing its downtown detention center and creating a joint facility with York County, Buracker said. That idea was part of a county bond proposal rejected by voters in a referendum two years ago.

Closing the jail would free up nine positions, Buracker reported.

• In another suggestion likely to generate controversy, Buracker encouraged the city to bring the multijurisdictional drug unit under Gregory's command.

Defense attorneys have criticized the unit as a freewheeling agency that needs clearer lines of authority. Others praise it for putting drug dealers in jail.

No more traffic ticket rewards

Gregory already has made at least one change. Until recently, the department gave awards to officers who generated the "most activity" -- such as issuing traffic tickets -- during their shifts. Buracker found the practice caused an unhealthy competition between officers.

"When I found out it was perceived that way, I quit approving those," Gregory said.

Buracker painted a generally positive picture of the department, saying officers gave high marks to Gregory and enjoyed taking part in initiatives such as the Weed & Seed program in center-city neighborhoods.

"Given the people you have, you're doing an excellent job," the consultant said.

Three key findings

-Rock Hill employs fewer officers than its peers. The city employs 1.86 police officers for every 1,000 residents. That’s a different ratio than in Charleston, where the number is 3.36, and Greenville, where it’s 2.97.

-The department needs 21 additional sworn positions: Sixteen officers, two assistant chiefs, a captain, lieutenant and sergeant.

-The department should devote one detective solely to Internet child predators and another to probe sex crimes against children. It also should add two clerks so detectives aren’t bogged down with paperwork.

Inside the numbers

Burglaries, robberies, thefts and homicides have held steady or decreased in the past five years. But response times are slow compared to other cities.

Calls for service

Five years ago: 55,948 calls

Two years ago: 59,707

Last year: 58,119

Crime rate

(Determined by dividing the number of major crimes by population)

Five years ago: 68.95

Two years ago: 56.25

Last year: 57.34