Q&A – Is BSO Too Big? Are Smaller Law Enforcement Agencies Better?

Today’s entry -I like my law enforcement nice and small so the cops feel accountable to the citizens. BSO should be broken up. There is no reason for any agency to have as much power as they have.

Bottom Line:This is a potentially compelling argument. Is part of BSO’s problem, punctuated by the recent loss of accreditation it’s size? At last report, there are 387 law enforcement agencies across Florida, but none larger than BSO. Broward has 31 municipal governments but only 9 law enforcement agencies. There are 5,400 employees, of which 2,800 are deputies. That’s an awful lot for even highly competent leaders to account for daily. With the role of law enforcement being primarily public safety, there have been numerous studies over the years that have compared the size of law enforcement agencies to outcomes. The most recent and comprehensive study by Harvard and MIT researchers was entitled Are U.S. Cities Underpoliced? They analyzed 242 law enforcement agencies across the country over the course of 50 years. The results were mixed depending on the type of crime. For example, larger police departments are generally more effective at preventing violent crime while smaller police departments are generally better at preventing property crime.

I want to be careful not to oversimplify the research, but my takeaway from it is this. In situations where information sharing is key to effective policing, there’s a benefit to larger agencies that have information inherently shared to more people over a larger area. Most violent criminals don’t stick around where they committed a crime for example. Casting a wider net with the best possible information quickly is helpful. Conversely, many property crimes are committed by people familiar with the neighborhood that often live within proximity. Smaller law enforcement that’s more familiar with specific neighborhood policing generally is more effective. 

The bottom line is that there isn’t conclusive evidence that suggests a law enforcement agency is inherently better or worse based on size. But back to your point, you mentioned you like a smaller department that you feel is accountable to you. That’s understandable and regardless of size, all government agencies should be accountable to us. Competent leadership is going to be critical to success or failure no matter of size.

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