Charlottesville Police Foundation i

What if the Police Didn’t Come When You Called

April 1, 2022

Dear Mayor Snook, Vice-Mayor Wade, and Councilors Magill, Pinkston, and Payne,

I am a lifelong resident of the city and having heard recent community concerns about the police department and its budget, I felt compelled to share that I too am concerned, albeit for different reasons.

Attached to this e-mail you will find a detailed response to statements made during public comment at city council meetings in March of this year, as well as a supporting spreadsheet for reference. I kindly ask that you read it in full, but knowing you may not have the time to do so right away, I have included a short summary below:

Several people have used the public comment period during city council meetings in March to advocate for reducing police staffing and funding. Their arguments focused on the fact that Charlottesville appears to be an outlier in spending per resident and number of officers per 10,000 residents. That argument does not consider the unfortunate truth that, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting, Charlottesville’s crime rate, and especially our violent crime rate, is far higher than Harrisonburg or Blacksburg, the two cities cited in public comment which are closest in size to Charlottesville. The chart below plots department size and funding against the crimes in each jurisdiction, a much better measure of how much work each department must handle. The chart shows that, in fact, the department’s desired level of staffing and funding is perfectly in line with other cities in our region. Today’s actual staffing levels, in the mid- to low-90’s, puts us well below the curve in the graph below.

The next chart compares the number of sworn officers in each department against the population and violent crime rate of each city. We have nearly the same population as Harrisonburg and Blacksburg, yet our violent crime rate is nearly twice that of Harrisonburg, nearly seven times that of Blacksburg, and nearly on par with cities twice our size. If Charlottesville had two to seven times the number of house fires as similarly sized cities, I would expect our fire department to be proportionally larger. Why don’t we feel the same way about our police department? 

As to the relative cost of the police force, we again cannot assume it is an apples-to-apples comparison. There are many factors which may drive up the budget per officer, ranging from the need to hire and train dozens of officers over the last several years (which costs much more than retaining them) to the use of extra equipment in handling our higher-than-typical crime rates. Additionally, to improve citizen-police interactions and provide the best possible services to the community, we need to hire, train, and retain the best people we can get. The department is hemorrhaging officers: At the October 4, 2021, City Council meeting, former city manager Chip Boyles told the council that 93 employees had resigned from the Charlottesville Police Department over the previous three years, and 74 new people have been hired. The department has fewer than 100 officers today. Not only should we not cut the department budget, but we should also increase it in support of better pay and benefits to help with recruiting and retention.

The facts speak for themselves. The Charlottesville Police Department is in desperate need of the council’s help and funding. Charlottesville is at best middling when it comes to police spending relative to crime rates. It is a burden on the community to have such an understaffed department, and the council has the duty to fix it. The vacancies on the force create serious hazards to citizens, commuters, visitors, and officers, and the city must have a serious conversation about how to save the department and provide the service this city deserves.

Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions about the attached documents, or if I can help answer any questions about policing in Charlottesville.
 
Best regards,
 
Alex Bruner (he/him)

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I want to thank you and the other individuals who organized [the Appreciation Dinner]. Often, the men and women who serve this community fail to receive the recognition and praise they so well deserve. They are local heroes and should be reminded that their service to this community is appreciated by the individuals they protect and serve.

—Family Member of CPD Officer