On Thursday, FlaglerLive published “Palm Coast and Flagler at Risk of Overfunding Police,” an opinion analysis by FlaglerLive Editor Pierre Tristam on Flagler County Sheriff’s request for 25 additional deputies from Palm Coast and Flagler County government (10 and 15, respectively). The Sheriff’s Office’s Mark Strobridge responds.
By Mark Strobridge
My forty years of law enforcement experience compel me to address several major misinterpretations in the recent Flagler Live editorial entitled “Palm Coast and Flagler Risk Overfunding Police.”
First, the University of North Florida manpower study was led by one of the most respected criminal justice researchers in America. Its methods and findings are entirely driven by the actual data and documented citizen expectations for service in our community. The researchers were totally unhandcuffed and uninfluenced.
This University of North Florida study refers to the officers per 1,000 residents as the traditional method of law enforcement estimating needed manpower. The study never exclusively uses this ratio to calculate manpower needs for Flagler County and the City of Palm Coast. The conclusions of the study do not depend on the ratio referred to within the editorial. In fact, it replaces it with a manpower calculation model specific to the needs of our community. This manpower calculation model is tailored to our community and driven by actual workload and documented service demand by residents. It confirms the need for both deficit and growth deputies. This manpower calculation model has now survived rigorous methodological scrutiny and was published in an international academic journal. Unlike the opinion editorial, the study withstood the scrutiny of academic review.
Second, the study used actual calls for service for the Sheriff’s Office service area and not the age of the population to drive manpower needs. The calls for service and jurisdiction for the Cities of Flagler Beach and Bunnell were not part of the data reviewed and therefore the conclusions were based on the FCSO service area.
Third, crime rate alone does not dictate a police force size. Lower crime does not mean you reduce the police force. The Police Chiefs of the cities where crime is out of control recently pleaded with the President of the United States for help because they have an insufficient number of police officers to protect their communities. These cities prove that if you wait until the crime rate increases to add police officers, you have already lost; much policing activity is not a direct response to crime calls. Many calls for service involve an issue of mental health or substance abuse and much more service calls that are not crime related. Often, responding to these calls prevents the situation from escalating to a crime. The success of Sheriff Staly’s guardianship policing model is we are pro actively identifying and addressing issues in our community to ensure public safety. The result of our strategy is a 48 percent crime reduction in four years. We must protect this success and not forfeit it. Other communities around America have had to learn this lesson the hard way.
Fourth, while technology supports our success, you cannot substitute technology or volunteers to answer a call for service which requires a deputy sheriff.
The fundamental issue remains unchanged. Approved growth means more calls for service. Over the last 20 years, the City of Palm Coast tripled in size to 90,000 residents. In only six of those 20 years, did the City of Palm Coast add any additional deputies to cope with the increasing demand for service for the growth they approved. Seventy percent of those twenty years they never added a deputy causing services to decline and crime was like a seesaw. In the same time frame, Flagler County doubled in size to 115,000 residents. In only six of those years did the county fund additional deputies to keep up with growth. In sixty-five percent of those twenty years, they did not. This easily explains the need for thirty-one deficit deputies documented by the UNF study.
According to all available data including new and proposed projects, the county will almost double in size in the next 25 years. Flagler County will become the fifth fastest growing county of Florida’s sixty-seven counties. In fact, today Flagler County is among the faster growing counties in Florida. This explains the need for growth deputies to keep pace in the future.
Had prior city councils, prior county commissions and prior Sheriffs simply added a few new deputies every year or every other year when the growth was occurring, we would not need the number of deputies we now request and need. Support in recent years is very much appreciated but a major identified need must still be addressed.
We commend the Mayor and City Council of Palm Coast and the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners for their strong, pro-active, and bold leadership. They understand that population growth impacts the demand for services and not just crime rates by supporting these requests for needed deputies. They are ensuring that our community will remain one of the safest in America and the service levels our residents have become accustomed to will continue.
Chief Mark Strobridge is Sheriff Rick Staly’s chief of staff.