Concerned about police staffing levels and school security, officials in suburban Stow have placed an issue on the Nov. 5 ballot that would provide substantial new resources for the small department. Passage of Issue 16, a 0.25 percentage-point increase in the city’s income tax, would raise about $1.7 million a year. Mayor Sara Drew promises that 11 police officers would be hired, increasing the department’s size by more than 25 percent.
Drew points to comparable cities with close to two officers per 1,000 residents; Stow has just over one per 1,000. If Issue 16 passes, that gap would narrow, with more officers on patrol and a police presence in the city’s schools enhanced, building on steps taken after the Newtown shooting.
No question, Stow has grown as the police department has stayed about the same size (it now stands at 37 officers, one more than in 1988). Yet the city’s crime rate remains very low. In 2011, the most recent annual data available, the rate of violent crime was one-fifth of the national average. Neither the school district nor the city points to an increase in violent behavior or crime.
So what would $1.7 million buy? In terms of school safety, Stow would devote three officers to seven buildings. In neighboring Cuyahoga Falls, a single officer handles 10 schools. Stow police would improve response times, avoiding potential trouble if all available officers are drawn to a single incident. Police Chief Lou Dirker also talks about community policing, a proactive approach to crime. Still, he is borrowing the tactic from cities more likely responding to higher crime rates.
What deserves much stronger consideration are smarter ways to provide police services across larger geographic areas, even entire counties. It makes little sense in the long run for taxpayers to support many small departments, each with its own administrative overhead.
The best vehicle for a regional approach to providing police services is for communities to contract with the sheriff’s office, avoiding unneeded duplication of effort. Giving the sheriff the proper resources more likely would yield the greatest possible protection for the money.