Dayton switches police patrol approach, worries about officer shortage

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Putting more officers on patrol, on geographic beats, aims to help officers and improve relationships with residents.

The Dayton Police Department is restructuring to put more officers on patrol, assign cops to more compact geographic beats and give police personnel more chances to decompress.

These changes hopefully will improve police services and help address some challenges facing the department, including what could become a critical staffing shortage, said Dayton police Chief Kamran Afzal.

“We’re trying to make sure our organization’s structure aligns nicely with those needs the community has identified for us and that we have been identifying for ourselves for some time now,” Afzal said.

The reorganization of the police department will shift about 30 officers from the investigations division to patrol duties, said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.

Patrol officers often go from call to call without having any time in between to decompress, Dickstein said.

“That’s obviously not in the best interest of police work,” she said, adding that police reform efforts stressed the importance of de-escalating incidents between officers and community members.

Giving officers some downtime between calls during their shifts should be helpful, she said.

Patrol officers and the department’s three patrol districts will now be under one division and police major.

Dickstein said officers will be assigned to cover geographic areas, which hopefully will be well-received by many community members and some leaders who have long asked for a greater focus on community policing.

The police department also is launching a new community services division, which will largely handle community engagement, police recruitment and training.

National best practices call for about 60% of police departments’ sworn officers to be assigned to patrol, where they respond to calls for service, said Chief Afzal.

But, he said, less than half of Dayton’s sworn officers handle street patrol.

Patrol staffing levels could fall to critically low levels this summer, Afzal said, and the current recruit class of 26 will not complete field training until September.

The police department has about 340 officers, and a few are expected to retire soon or depart for other jobs, he said. The police department usually tries to have about 365 officers.

Under the reorganization, patrol officers will be assigned to smaller geographic areas, and Afzal says this hopefully will result in community members getting to know and trust the officers who keep their neighborhoods safe.

He said law enforcement needs citizens to report problems and crimes and provide tips to solve them.

“We’re going back to the old beat concept — in modern days, we call it geographic policing,” he said.

Assigning police officers and sergeants to patrol beats hopefully will help better address neighborhood complaints and problems, officials said.

Afzal said some of the changes should go into effect June 1.

Police Sgt. Kyle B. Thomas, president of the Dayton Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 44, said the police union supports Chief Azfal’s vision for providing the best police service possible for the community.

But, he said, changes bring hardship, and some officers in investigations will be sent back to patrol involuntarily, and reassignment will impact their schedules, hours and other facets of life.

Chief Afzal and his command staff have consulted with members of the police union’s executive board to share their plans and try to avoid running afoul of the collective bargaining agreement and do right by officers and minimize the harm of the changes, Thomas said.

But Thomas said a shortage of officers is a major challenge, which predates Afzal’s arrival. He was sworn in as chief late last year.

“We’re getting near record lows” of staffing, he said. “It’s a big-picture problem, but the end solution is we need more police officers on the street.”

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