Crime and Public Safety

Summary:
 
Property crime is a big problem in our city, worse than Chicago in fact. I have a 3 part plan to combat this:
 
1. Reformulate Sheriff's contract to incentivize lowering crime, as well as untie Sheriff's hands as far as managing available resources as he sees fit to accomplish the job.
2. Work with Avista (already has a street light program, and neighborhoods to light the valley.
3. Work with police and block watch programs to reinvigorate our city's neighborhood watch program.
 
Thanks, Al
 
Neighbors:
 
Property crime is a huge problem in our city.
 
Here is a link to neighborhood scout with detailed information about crime in our city:
https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/wa/spokane-valley/crime
 
For comparison, here is Chicago:
 
https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/il/chicago/crime
 
Obviously, Chicago has a much higher violent crime rate than Spokane Valley (I'm glad to report our violent crime rate is low), but what's surprising is that the property crime rate is 25% lower!!!
 
WE HAVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM!
 
So what do we do?
 
Here is my Three-part plan:
 
1. Improve the sheriff's contract
 
Our city is a contract city by formation. This means we contract out for as many services as we can rather than forming city departments. This allows us to use the powerful legal instrument of the contract to incentivize performance and on-time delivery through payment, whereas you can't really do the same with a city department.
 
Here is an example:
 
Let's say you have a city police department. Let's say in a given year you have many complaints and the crime rate goes up substantially. What can you do about it?
 
Well, you can fire the department head. Maybe some of their employees. You could evaluate policies and try to make changes incrementally to how policing is done. But can you recoup your expenses? Can you find alternate solutions and providers? The answer is of course no. You are limited in what can be done to effect change.
 
On the other hand, let's say you have a contract with a performance incentive. What if the same failure occurs? First, you would not pay the performance incentive, which would leave the city with funds to be able to find other solutions. You could also seek a contract with other experienced providers through competition, and they would bring whole systems of change rather than piecemeal incremental changes. To me, this is the obvious better choice.
 
But this brings us to the unfortunate reality: our city contract is not written as a performance incentive contract, we currently have what I would term a 'time and materials' contract.
 
This means that we pay for the sheriff's time and materials (in very specified amounts) in support of him ATTEMPTING to achieve certain goals. I am emphasizing attempting because there aren't really any performance incentives or consequences to these goals except maybe a vague threat that the contract may be terminated. But again, terminating the contract when written like this doesn't actually save the city any money, or provide for better solutions. Additionally, a time and materials contract puts a lot of emphasis on negotiating how much we pay specifically for each unit of goods or labor. This approach ties the contractor's hands in terms of actually managing for the success of the contract and also provides a blame-game scenario for failure.
 
The blame game goes like this: the city specifies how many officers and how much they are paid in the contract. The contractor says he needs more and the salaries need to be higher. Our city council disagrees (I am not sure why the majority including my opponent believes they are the experts on policing even more than the sheriff hired to do the job...) So they don't give him the funds. Jobs go unfilled, and any failures in policing can (and should) be blamed on lack of staff rather than the contractor.
 
This is exactly the opposite of why you create a contract. The point of contracting is to hire an expert to get a job done. The expert can hardly be blamed for not getting the job done if you, the none expert tries to micromanage the job.
 
I propose a different approach, what we in the contracting business (my field of expertise) call a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract. It works like this:
 
The contractor proposes a budget for the job, for simplicity, we will say $100. The budget has general categories such as labor, materials, etc. During negotiation, the budget has line-item estimates that are testable so we can evaluate the cost realism of the budget (for this example let's say the $100 is a realistic cost budget). However, after the award of the contract, the contractor is free to manage those general categories as they see fit so long as they stay within the cost ceiling. In addition, there is an upside/downside incentive built into the contract as follows: we have decided that $100 is reasonable so we will pay $70 upfront through monthly invoices as cost reimbursement. The remaining amount will be paid depending on performance: poor performance gets none, acceptable performance gets $30 (thus covering all costs), exemplary performance gets a bonus of $10 dollars (we call this fee), meaning the contractor has the potential to get $110 for the job, if they do an exceptional job. So if the contractor fails, the city has money reserves to find a better solution.
 
Now you are probably asking how do we determine performance? Well, that would be done in collaboration with the contractor and the public. The contractor is, of course, the expert and they should be able to provide a realistic and measurable target set for performance. This would go through public comment to make sure the public agrees that those measures are good ones.
 
For example, in the policing contract, this could include reducing the property crime rate by some percentage or having an acceptable response time to 911 calls (these are just examples, again it would be a big conversation with the sheriff to come up with specifics).
 
At the end of the negotiation everyone (council, public, and sheriff) would be in agreement as to a set of achievable and measurable performance standards and fee proportion associated with each.
 
During performance, the contractor (here the Sheriff) would be able to manage the funds under the ceiling as he sees fit to achieve those goals. If he thinks having fewer officers and paying more will get the results done, so be it. If he thinks having fewer cars, but paying a hiring bonus to recruit would be better, then great do it. I don't think citizens much care about how the money is managed below the ceiling, as much as they care that crime is taken care of and the overall cost is reasonable to the city. But currently, the council majority has wasted time debating whether we should have 15 or 16 officers, or whether we should have blue or green police cars.
 
This also has the added benefit of putting the responsibility for performance squarely on the contractor. They agree to the cost ceiling, the performance measures, and fee risk. If performance is not met it is solely the fault of the contractor.
 
I have great confidence in Sheriff Ozzy, with whom I have discussed this approach often. He is in favor of this contracting approach because it would untie his hands to provide good policing in the city. Additionally, I have worked with Councilwoman Brandi Peetz, the most experienced public safety expert on the council, on this approach. 
 
I think if we reformulated the contract as I suggest we would see immediate public safety gains.
 
2. Streetlights
 
According to the National Institute of Justice, street lights are the most directly effective way to combat property crime:
https://www.crimesolutions.gov/TopicDetails.aspx?ID=21
 
Currently, our city has limited street lighting, and we can vastly improve that. The cost of street lights has fallen substantially in the last few years due to LED technology.
 
Avista has a program whereby citizens can request a customized street light on property close to power junction boxes. Avista would take responsibility for all maintenance needs of the light and the resident on whose property the light resides would simply pay a nominal monthly fee for the electricity (I've been told the fee is as little as $8 per month).
 
I intend to publicize this program and work with neighborhoods to light the valley. I realize that there is a lot to work out since individual residents will have to take responsibility for the street lights, but I'm sure through community communication and leadership we will be able to work this out together and really make a dent in property crime!
 
3. Neighborhood Watches
 
I have been speaking with many block watch organizers about reinvigorating the neighborhood watch system. I think that the council and the police department should work together with these systems to really help bring public safety. The above website shows the neighborhood watches are also one of the most effective solutions to crime.
 
Using these three solutions, I believe we have a very good chance of putting a major dent in crime in our city. I wish I could quantify that dent for you, but without in-depth negotiations with the Sheriff on what's possible, I can't quantify the reductions yet.

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© 2017 by  Albert Merkel. Proudly created with Wix.com

Pictures provided by JANUARY D PHOTOGRAPHY, a valley resident owned small business. see more of her work at januarydphotography.pixieset.com  

Video produced locally by artist Micaela Halpin