Chief Balken wants to split city into four quadrants for better quality policing

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Posted April 13, 2022 | By James Blevins
james@ocalagazette.com

[Image supplied by OPD]

At the city’s annual strategic planning session held on March 22, Ocala Police Department Chief Mike Balken brought forward several budget requests before Ocala City Council, including a proposal to divide the city into four quadrants to better use the agency’s staff and to help reduce overtime costs.

Currently, Ocala is split into two districts for policing, said Balken, with each district having a district office located within the community. Ocala Police Department (OPD) headquarters, at 402 S. Pine Ave., houses administration and major crimes units (including those handling murder, robbery and arson cases).

OPD’s East District office is at 340 N.E. Eighth Ave.; its West District office is at 625 N.W. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. Each district has one sergeant and seven officers.

“It worked well back in 1994, when I was a young cop,” explained Balken, “working under seasoned veterans with lots of life skills and history to draw from. But things have changed. Law enforcement has changed. Now a very young sergeant isn’t just supervising one new guy, but four or five new guys.”

Overall, it takes the OPD a total of 13 months to hire and properly train a new hire before that officer is ready to work independently in the field. Hiring new police officers takes two months, followed by six months in the police academy. Then it takes another month for department orientation/high liability training and four months for field training.

With experience levels at a premium, Balken’s goal is to lower the span of control down a couple of pegs—ideally, five officers under one sergeant—spread over the four quadrants.

By spreading things out in smaller quadrants and shrinking squads, Balkan hopes to create a system of higher accountability as well.

“Each quadrant (team) is accountable for the crime that occurs there,” said Balken. “It’ll get us back to making closer ties with our community policing as well, targeting smaller locations better and understanding what’s going on in that particular neighborhood, who the bad people are. It just creates an atmosphere of better dialogue between the police and the citizens.”

“The city has grown,” he added. “And as an agency, we need to grow our approach to policing, too, and keep up with it.”

For the fiscal year 2021/2022, the OPD’s operating budget is $37.6 million, according to Public Information Officer Jeff Walczak.

Presently, OPD has a total workforce of 315 employees, including 194 who are sworn law enforcement personnel. The four-quadrant patrol structure will add an additional 11 sworn police officers (six sergeants and five officers), with an overall implementation cost of approximately $2.2 million, said Walczak.

“Refining our current two-district patrol structure to four quadrants will add six sergeants and five officers to our Community Policing Bureau,” he added. “This will improve our service to the community, to include crime deterrence and greater efficiency in response times.”

OPD Goals and Requests for 2022-2023

Goals:

  • Purchase land for future growth
  • Build out Communications Center
  • Formation of Field Force Unit
  • Staff downtown service area (horses/bikes)
  • Reconstitute Traffic Enforcement Unit
  • Formation of ICAC Unit
  • Improve training levels
  • Lower span of control for line supervision

Sworn Requests (involving the swearing in of new officers):

  • Six patrol sergeants
  • Five police officers
  • Two canine officers to allow for 24/7 coverage
  • One sergeant for the Traffic Enforcement Unit
  • Three motorcycle officers
  • Two mounted/bike unit officers for downtown

Non-Sworn Requests (involving the hiring of non-police staff):

  • Eight dispatchers and one dispatch supervisor
  • One communications CAD specialist for 911
  • Four community service specialists
  • One administrative specialist
  • One digital forensic technician
  • One OPD systems analyst
  • One crime scene technician
  • One part-time maintenance technician
  • One barn manager (mounted unit support)

To read what Chief Balken said on non-resident offenders and the opioid crisis, click the respective hyperlink.