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Half Of Police Agencies Have Under 10 Officers. Should They Exist?

The criticism heaped on a six-member school police force in Uvalde, Tx., after its response to a mass shooter has drawn attention to a ubiquitous institution: the tiny police department. While supporters say such agencies provide a personal touch that bigger police departments can’t match, critics say they often lack the training, expertise and accountability expected in a world of heavily armed criminals and heightened scrutiny of officers.

In Uvalde, it took more than an hour after officers arrived for law enforcement to enter the classroom and kill a gunman who fatally shot 19 children and two teachers. The chief of the school police force has borne the blame, though larger agencies are also being strongly criticized.

Uvalde’s top school official has recommended the firing of school district police chief Pete Arredondo. The South Texas city’s school board will consider firing him at a special meeting Saturday, the Associated Press reports.

Police departments with under 10 officers have also made headlines in Pennsylvania, Maryland and elsewhere in recent years for hiring and misconduct issues, reports the Washington Post.

Many question whether these smallest of police departments — which function in nearly every state, employ more than 20,000 officers nationwide — can adequately carry out their mission. Officials in some states have pushed to consolidate the smallest departments into larger, neighboring agencies, often triggering opposition.

“The only reason they exist is because of politics, and they provide jobs for some individuals,” said Charles McClelland, Houston police chief 2010 to 2016. “Uvalde is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the disjointed law enforcement jurisdictions we have in this country. Even though it happened in Texas, it can happen anywhere.”

Agencies with fewer than 10 officers make up nearly half the nation’s more than 12,200 local departments, a 2016 federal survey found.

“These agencies literally define community-oriented policing,” said Sean Marschke, chief of the 15-officer Sturtevant, Wi., Police Department, who represents agencies with 15 or fewer officers on the board of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“Many of these chiefs are the Little League coach. They also serve on the volunteer fire department. … So there’s this dedication to service and really knowing the people that you’re serving in those communities by first name.”

It’s difficult or impossible for these departments to match the resources of bigger ones — resources that go into things like training, communications systems, body cameras and professional standards units.


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