One of the key points of policy contention between Sioux Falls mayoral candidates Jolene Loetscher and Paul TenHaken is precinct-based policing. Loetscher says Sioux Falls is getting big enough that it needs to base police officers in separate facilities around town; TenHaken says that would cost too much. Here’s their back and forth from an April 18 debate:
Loetscher first pitched the idea back in March as a way to better connect neighborhoods with the law enforcement officers that serve them and reduce the cost impacts that could come with building new facilities to house police officers.
She reiterated those points Wednesday and pointed to other large cities as an example of precinct policing’s effectiveness.
“We brought (precincts) forward as a proposal so when the law enforcement center is out of space, we can spend (money) the smartest way possible,” Loetscher said to a room full of Sioux Falls police officers. “Instead of just building a new building and jeopardizing the potential that you all could have more money in your pocketbooks … we’re going to use resources we already have and build those (community centers) out into precincts and better connect you with our neighborhoods.”
TenHaken, though, pushed back and called police precincts a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. He also said precincts would be a drain on the police budget and take away resources that could otherwise go toward payroll and other resources to help law enforcement fight crime.
“It will actually inflate the budget and in a lot of ways not change the safety, which is goal No. 1.,” he said. “I have yet to talk to a member of the police department that is a fan of precinct-based policing, and I think it shows a lack of understanding of how we police this city.”
Loetscher didn’t back down, though, saying it’s only a matter of time before precincts are a necessity, saying the city was just 30 square miles wide 40 years ago compared to the nearly 80 miles Sioux Falls covers today.
Nor is Loetscher backing down in the face of opposition from the Sioux Falls police union, which, oddly, given Republican disdain for public employee labor unions, is now adopted by TenHaken’s Republican spin machine as the poster boys for making Loetscher sound anti-cop. Here’s Loetscher’s tough response to the FOP:
Today the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) released a statement opposing my proposal to bring precinct-focused-policing to Sioux Falls. Clearly there’s work to be done on this issue, but I look forward to bringing all parties around the table and working together on the best ideas for keeping Sioux Falls safe.
I do want to clear up some confusion. The FOP stated my campaign was misleading the public by saying precinct-focused policing is supported by “local law enforcement” in our TV commercials.
We stated the plan was supported by law enforcement and that’s accurate. This is the model used in cities all across the United States — Minneapolis, Omaha, Lincoln — even Rapid City announced last week they are exploring moving to a precinct model.
It’s the nationally accepted method of policing cities our size. It decreases response times, will improve community relations, and most importantly – utilize existing resources so we don’t have to spend millions of dollars on another high-rise office building downtown to house officers that will have to patrol neighborhoods further from command.
I fully respect the concerns laid out by the FOP. And we definitely have work to do in our conversations about how precinct-focused-policing is the best model to keep Sioux Falls safe as our population and geography continue to grow.
But part of the reason we did not seek out the endorsement of the FOP for this plan is that we did not want to politicize the department.
As we move forward next month, it’s imperative to recognize we are facing a severe shortage of space to house new officers as our city grows. I will never be afraid of tackling the tough problems and making the difficult decisions. I look forward to continuing these discussions with the incredible men and women of the Sioux Falls Police Department [Jolene Loetscher, campaign Facebook post, 2018.04.24].
Yesterday she continued to spotlight precinct-based policing as a good policy for Sioux Falls, pointing to this report on KELO Radio on Omaha’s long-standing use of precincts:
Omaha police Capt. Ken Kanger in the OPD’s drug and integrated narcotics unit, says the city has had them for decades.
“From the beginning, for years and years we’ve had it (precincts),” Kanger said. “We’ve expanded, obviously. We’ve had four precincts as long as I’ve been here for 20 years.”
He says the city soon is adding a fifth precinct. The drug unit, gang unit, assembly, and the main station are downtown.
Kanger says Omaha PD believes it’s important to have a police presence in every school and precinct [Todd Epp, “While Sioux Falls Debates, Omaha’s Had Precincts for Decades,” KELO Radio, 2018.04.26].
The only reason to prefer having all the cops based at one downtown station that’s six miles away from Cheese World (which really is the hub of the Lincoln County side of Sioux Falls, right?) appears to be money. But hey, once Mayor Huether can no longer blow city funds on vanity projects, building a couple police stations out toward the growing edges of Sioux Falls should be no problem.
By the way, Omaha has four precincts for 447,000 residents spread out across 131 square miles. New York City has 77 police precincts for 8.5 million people spread out across 305 square miles. Both Omaha and the Big Apple have one precinct for approximately every 111,000 residents. The average NYC precinct covers just 4 square miles, while the average Omaha precinct covers 33 square miles, which correlates to NYC’s eight-times-greater population density.
Sioux Falls currently has one precinct for 174,000 people spread out across 74 square miles.