Kent police: ‘We do more with less’

Cody Francis

42 officers make up department

There are days when Kent City Councilman Jack Amrhein has to reassure some residents in his ward that the Kent police pay attention to their community.

Amrhein’s ward stretches from the edge of downtown to the Kent-Stow border. Most of the residents in his ward are not Kent State students, but people who have been in the community for a number of years. He said because his residents live so far away from campus and downtown, they feel they do not get the same attention from the police than they would if they lived around the students.

“I think some residents feel that because many incidents happen at the university around the downtown area that our police may be focusing on just that area,” Amrhein said. “And that’s why some of the older people think the police aren’t around their neighborhood even though they are.”

Lt. Jayme Cole of the Kent Police Department said those in residential areas are not forgotten, even if they may feel like it.

The rundown of patrol

Cole said the way the officers are distributed throughout the city is “simple and straightforward.” There is a bare minimum of five officers on duty at any given time of the day.

On the weekends, specifically Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Cole said the minimum goes up to seven officers beginning at 7 or 8 p.m.

There are also a couple officers who work overlap hours, splitting the afternoon and night shifts. If the department is fully staffed, when no officers have time off or are in special training, Cole said a normal afternoon shift would include seven officers while the night shift would bump up to nine.

Cole said the staffing levels are determined and set so no officer is overwhelmed at any given time.

“(The distribution of officers) is based upon, No. 1, officer safety and, No. 2, in conjunction with that, the officer’s ability to handle the volume and type of calls for service that history has told us we can anticipate during any given time,” he said.

Cole said the police department uses another simple plan as to where the officers are distributed while on duty.

“City is divided into four basic patrol areas that are ingeniously named North, South, East and West,” he said. “In addition to that, on the weekend evening hours we also have an additional area that we carve out of those that would cover just the downtown area.”

Some Kent residents have been left wondering where the police were after the attacks of Christopher Kernich on Main Street in November and John White on Water Street in January.

As far as the Kernich and White cases are concerned, Cole said there was no way of predicting the events to have the officers in the right place at the right time.

“Both (incidents) are extremely unfortunate and I feel very badly for those people, but I don’t think it’s a realistic expectation at all to have a cop on every street corner,” he said. “I wish we had the funding to have an officer on every street corner.”

The economy’s effect: ‘We do more with less’

Cole said the city of Kent has a population of roughly 50,000 people in the nine or 10 months out of the year the university is in full swing.

According to an FBI formula, Cole said a city with that size population should staff about 60 police officers. Cole said the Kent Police Department currently operates with 42 officers, and has been operating on that level for the past few years.

“The city has been very cautious and conscientious during the last eight to ten years based on structural deficits, meaning that because the tax revenue is going down, the city operates at a loss year after year,” Cole said. “But on the other hand, the city has also done an excellent job, because of that careful spending, of having a fairly decent reserve fund for unplanned expenses.

“The buzzword around here is ‘we do more with less’ and we’ve been doing that for about eight or ten years. We’re used to operating lean, and because of that we have not had to use any layoffs or cut back.”

Even though the department is accustomed to doing “more with less,” it doesn’t mean they are satisfied with stretching their 42 officers across the roughly 10-square mile city in shifts of five to seven.

“On a normal afternoon, or even a normal evening, say there’s seven officers working. Do the math, that’s one officer per (1.43) square miles,” Cole said. “Now you add to that the volume of calls that we have to respond to. Despite our best intentions and wishes to be able to predict the future and be where we need to be, the fact of the matter is if a fight begins downtown it’s entirely possible at any given moment that all of our officers are busy with other calls for service, although we do our best to try to prioritize things.”

How safe is Kent?

In December, City Manager Dave Ruller posted graphics and crime statistics for the city of Kent on his blog,

Ruller’s statistics show crime rates for the city of Kent are lower than the national average in almost every category. Violent crimes in Kent declined 52 percent from 1994 to 2009. The amount of violent crimes in Kent is also less than half of the national average. Theft in Kent is 31 percent lower than the national average.

“Whenever there is a news story about a serious crime in Kent, people worry,” Ruller wrote in a Nov. 30 blog post. ”We worry too but we also try to keep things in perspective and we rely on data to do that. When you look at the snapshot of crime data in Kent over the last four years (from January through October of each year), you can get a good idea of how safe we are this year versus the prior three years by the numbers rather than the stories that make it into the newspaper headlines.”

Contact public affairs reporter Cody Francis at [email protected].