I recently attended a swearing in ceremony of eight new Ann Arbor Police Offers. It was a heartwarming and humbling event as a loved one of each officer pinned on their new badge of honor. Clearly City Council is responding to the concern that we have been understaffed in our police by hiring and training these new officers. I trust that the presence of more patrol cars, and "beat cops" on bicycles around town will act as a deterrent to crime.
But we need to continue to research what the "optimal" number of staff should be for a city such as Ann Arbor where the incidence of violent crime and fire may be below the national standard while at the same time be cognizant of trends; currently non-violent crime in Ann Arbor is increasing and there have been 12 fire-related deaths in Ann Arbor since 2008. Answering the question "What is the optimal number of police and fire personnel?" should be a priority for City Council.
Currently, we are likely below the "optimal" number given the amount of overtime currently paid to public safety personnel. According to annarbor.com, the City spent 1.4M in overtime pay for police, and 375K for fire in 2011. Theoretically, paying staff overtime saves money in the short term because we aren't paying out additional benefits for new employees. But what happens to long-term, over-worked employees? Likely, they burn out, leave and collect generous retirement pay. I would argue that it is more fiscally sustainable to bring new employees with benefits into the mix at this time because the cost to do so would be less than the cost of overtime. Furthermore, employing the right number of employees leads to predictable work schedules and productivity and ultimately reinforces the "City Guiding Principal" of employee growth and enjoyment.
Public Safety has been identified as one of City Council's top five budget priorties in the next fiscal year. I look forward to a healthy dialogue about how best to ensure Ann Arbor residents feel safe and are safe with appropriate staffing levels.
At our December 16th meeting, City Council approved general fund expenditures of $125K to pay for 70 hours per week of overtime dedicated to traffic enforcement until the end of this fiscal year. I am optimistic that this added enforement will influence changes in behavior as a result of the Pedeistran Crossing Ordinance which requires drivers to stop for pedestrians waiting on the curb. In the two years after the ordinance was passed, pedestrian crashes at non-signalized crosswalks increased from 21 in 2010 to 33 in 2011 and 34 in 2012. The data for 2013 is much improved, pedestrians crashes through the end of October are down to 11, but this coincides with the first full year the RRFBs have been in operation. (Source: https://sendnow.acrobat.com/?i=V5AxJapd5oGjUjweOlPJKg).
The "carrot" of being a pedestrian friendly community is admirable, but is not enough to change motorist behavior. I expect that now with added enforcement, the "stick" approach will actually help drivers learn by experience the consequences of not adhering to our local ordinance.
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In the words of Rich Kinsey "Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors."