Usually, we have a great working relationship with media outlets. Odd thing for a police department to say, but it is true.  They request information and we provide it.  We do what we can to get them access to people, specialty units, and equipment whenever we can.  They almost never hear the word “no” when they ask for an interview, and the phrase, “no comment” is verboten in the Cape Coral Police Department Public Affairs Office.  We go above and beyond when it comes to openness and transparency. As long as the stories are fair, accurate, and respectful to the victims or survivors of crimes, we don’t complain.

In spite of all of this, sometimes news outlets get stories wrong.  Usually errors are attributable to editing for time.  It’s understandable…it is hard to tell a complex story with multiple parties in under 2 minutes.  It is even harder to make the stories compelling enough to get people to watch, and this is where things get…messy.  The reporters have to not only tell a story, they also have to create something that is visually appealing and get the audience interested enough to read, tune in, or click on the link.  To achieve this, news outlets often promote certain stories with ads containing ominous music, shot at interesting camera angles, with reporters using their “serious” voices. These techniques create a sense of fear and urgency in the viewer, making the viewer want to watch the story.  It’s Marketing 101.  And the stories themselves… well, these stories are designed to boost ratings and the facts sometimes take a back seat to the “story” and are used to get to the end where the reporter or news outlet wanted to go in the first place.  This is exactly what happened in a recent news piece that NBC-2 aired on Monday, May 15th at 6:00 PM that purported to “investigate” how “spread thin” the Cape Coral Police Department is.  So, we are going to take this opportunity to address the factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations in this story, and then tell you the real story about manpower here at the Cape Coral Police Department.

This is false.  In this clip, the reporter conflates “criminals” with “calls for service”  and they used a rolling year-over-year comparison.  In FY16, the Cape Coral Police Department Communications Center processed 275,685 calls for service; 71,734 of which were made to 9-1-1.  Only a portion of those required PD response and of those, only a fraction required an arrest.

Misleading.  It is correct that we divide the city into 3 districts- North, Central, and South.  Each district has 5 patrol zones or “beats” and each beat is assigned an officer on each shift.  That is how they came up with the 15 officer number.  And yes, we don’t let our staffing fall below this number.  What the report failed to mention is that in addition to the zone officers we have 3 sergeants and a Lieutenant on each patrol shift, floating “cover cars” in each district, Traffic Units, K9 Units, Public Service Aides, and other specialty units working.

Let’s also talk about that officer/citizen ratio.  During their “investigation” we explained that the Cape Coral Police Department does not chase this particular statistic because it is of questionable value by itself.  We look at it, but when we are determining our staffing needs we look at a number of other variables that are far more telling:

  • number and types of calls for service
  • response times of officers
  • dedicated versus non-dedicated time of officers
  • proactive versus reactive calls

We even factor in things like miles of road in the city, speed intervals, administrative time for paperwork, and relief factor to allow for officers to take vacation, sick time, or training.

There is no nation-wide standard for what the officer/citizen ratio should be for police departments, but news outlets like it because it’s easy to calculate and it sounds official.  But, if you are going to use this ratio, at least do it right.  The way the news report did it, they chose an arbitrary subset of our sworn officers and divided it into a round number of 180,000.  Not the correct number of officers.  Not the correct population figure.  The industry standard calculates this ratio based on the total number of sworn officers in the agency.  So, what would that look like? 

Well, the Cape Coral Police Department is authorized a sworn strength of 234 sworn officers.  The current population of Cape Coral, based on the Cape Coral Interactive Growth Model is 178,347.  That means that in Cape Coral we have 1 officer for every 762.17 residents or 1.312 officers per 1,000 people…almost 16 times what was reported.  If you factor in the current number of sworn officer vacancies the Cape Coral Police Department currently has, the numbers change to 1 officer for every 803.37 residents or 1.245 officers per 1,000 people…still 15 times the reported number.

True, but they don’t tell you why.  (News outlets love to throw this in.  It makes it look like they are “pushing for answers” and that they are being avoided.)  At the time the interview was requested the City of Cape Coral and the Cape Coral Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 33, the bargaining unit for our officers, were in the middle of contract negotiations.  The reporter was told that Chief Newlan did not want to be misinterpreted as exercising any undue influence on that process.

So, what is the real deal with our personnel situation here at the Cape Coral Police Department?  Here it is:  We are short-staffed!  That’s probably not the answer you were expecting. The Cape Coral Police Department is currently authorized 234 sworn officers, this is down from our all-time high of 282 authorized, back before the housing collapse.  We currently have 12 vacancies.  These vacancies are the result of unfilled positions and normal attrition.  The Professional Standards Bureau which conducts our hiring, recently posted and closed the position of Police Officer and is in the hiring process with a new group of candidates now.  The position opens several times a year and will probably re-open in a few months. Filling the existing vacancies would certainly help with reducing overtime, making it easier for officers to take a day off, allow for some lateral movement within the Department, and yes, would beef up the number of officers on the road.  Recruiting and training officers is a long, highly selective, and expensive process.  On average, for every 11 applicants, only 1 makes it through the almost year-long hiring and training process before they are out on their own.

We are in the process of putting together our personnel allocation model ahead of the upcoming budget cycle.  This is where we look at all those factors we talked about earlier to determine how many officers we need and determine if we need to request more authorized positions.  We undoubtedly will. 

So, there you have it.  There is no “doom and gloom.”  We are recruiting, hiring, and training the best men and women we can find.  The safety of our citizens and of our community is, as always, our number one priority.  Why take the time to write this when the story paints such a bad picture?  Wouldn’t that help the Police Department get more cops?  Well, the answer is simple.  We want our citizens to know the facts, not be frightened by fear, uncertainty, and doubt that is manufactured for one news outlet’s ratings, Facebook “likes” web traffic, or re-tweets. 

Cape Coral is the #1 safest city in the state of Florida with a population of over 150,000 when it comes to violent crime, is the #2 safest for property crime, and case clearance numbers (cases solved) are above the national average, even with our current staffing levels.  We will continue to create a workplace that enriches our people and helps retain the awesome talent that we have.  We will continue to recruit the best new officers and fill our vacant positions.  And finally, we will continue look at the data and evaluate our personnel needs based on sound data not “back-of-the-napkin” math, or manufactured crises.

About the Author:

"Lieutenant Dana Coston is a 20 year law enforcement veteran who is assigned to the Office of the Chief of Police. He is the Public Affairs Officer for the Cape Coral Police Department and oversees the Public Affairs Office, Community Outreach Program, Planning and Research Unit, and Victim Assistance Unit.  He also serves as the Department's Webmaster and Social Media Manager, testing and evaluating platforms and technologies for use in the Cape Coral Police Department Social Media Program.

Lieutenant Coston previously served as a Patrol Officer, School Resource Officer, Detective assigned to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, Patrol Sergeant, and Professional Standards Bureau Sergeant where he oversaw Personnel, Training, and Internal Affairs.  He is an instructor for the Cape Coral Police Department in the areas of baton, firearms, and Media Relations, and has instructed all over SW Florida on gang identification and prevention, and the application of Social Media in Law Enforcement.

Lieutenant Coston holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and History from Emory University. He is a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Planners, the National Information Officers Association, and the Florida Law Enforcement Public Information Officers Association.  He is a certified Gang Specialist, FBI Domestic Human Intelligence Collector, and was an adjunct instructor to the FBI Academy teaching human source recruitment.”