Policing Mid-Size Cities—A Call for Research and Advocacy

A summation of the IACP call to action, “Out of the Shadows: Policy Research for Mid-Size Law Enforcement Agencies”

The successes and challenges of mid-size cities and their police departments have not been a distinct area of research, development, or evaluation in either the urban policy arena or the police community. While large law enforcement agencies and smaller rural departments benefit from specialized conferences, training, and advocacy groups, little of the same is available to mid-size departments. The fact that mid-size cities and police departments are distinct in their own right, with much to offer and much to gain, has gone unnoticed.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Office of Community Oriented Policing (the COPS Office) recognize this gap. Led by a network of motivated and forward-thinking mid-size city chiefs and with encouragement and financial support from the COPS Office, the IACP is exploring the concerns of this unique segment of the police community and the options to address them.

This article summarizes the results of two meetings of the newly formed IACP Mid-Size Cities Advisory Committee. This committee was charged with the following objectives:

Population Chart

The advisory committee began its work by attempting to define “mid-size.” Efforts to identify a firm definition from a police perspective were interesting and enlightening, but ultimately unsuccessful. Research for a definitive demographic definition, or even for a softer, less precise description of characteristics, yielded little of value. Given the lack of emphasis on this area of study, perhaps this is not surprising.

The scope of the mid-size phenomenon appears, however, when the number of cities/police departments is classified by mid-size as shown below using U.S. Census Bureau data, which lists 19,490 cities, in 2007. The “mids,” those between 50,000 and 500,000, number 658 and host a population approaching that of small cities and almost twice that of the largest cities.

Group consensus determined that the mid-size city agencies might be bifurcated into two groups: 50,000 to 100,000 and 101,000 to 500,000. Clear throughout the discourse was the recognition that there exists a significant group of cities that have a lot to offer the field and a lot to gain through a collective voice.

The ways in which mid-size police agencies are similar to and different from large agencies is another inquiry lacking contemporary research. Mid-size departments confront a range of “big-city” issues, and their experiences with these problems are largely without research. Those mentioned most frequently by network chiefs are:

Conversely, mid-size police departments also possess a combination of characteristics, some positive and some not, which in the view of chiefs serve to differentiate them from big-city police agencies. Mid-size departments:

A case for concentrating attention on mid-size cities need not rest on generalized inattention or any other factor introduced to this point. Indeed, there is a far more compelling reason: the pattern of violent crime in America may be shifting, in relative dimension.

A 2006 report from the Community Research Council in Chattanooga, Tennessee, noted “between 2000 and 2005, murder and non-negligent homicide in mid-size cities (cities with a 2000 population between 100,000 and 300,000) has increased by 22.2 percent. The rate was two and a half times the rate of increase for the nation as a whole (8.5 percent) and more than 50 percent higher than that of large cities.”1 Furthermore, 14 (56 percent) of the top 25 most violent metropolitan statistical areas in 2008, as measured by rates per 100,000 population, have between 50,000 and 500,000 residents. Seven fall in the population range of 100,000 to 250,000.

While to use these data to declare a shift in the national pattern of crime is presumptive, they do draw attention to the fact that mid-size cities are experiencing significant violence. More analysis into mid-size cities—and advocacy for them—is required.

To that end, and based on the unanimous recommendation of the advisory committee, the IACP is moving forward and exploring formal creation of a Mid-Size City Section within the IACP’s membership. The basic purpose of this section will be to fashion a mid-size agency body of knowledge and enable participating executives to share concerns, best practices, and experiences among themselves and with other larger and smaller agencies. In service to the police profession as a whole, this initiative makes sense and already has garnered a great deal of excitement and support within IACP and the COPS Office.

The COPS Office will publish a detailed monograph of the findings of the meetings of IACP’s Mid-Size Cities Advisory Committee later this year.


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