Police Chief: More officers needed soon

Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken worries a boom in planned development in Ocala will mean a shortage of police officers if something is not done soon.

During the City of Ocala’s strategic planning workshop on March 10, Balken said the planned growth will require more officers. He’s just not sure how many, but he pledged to develop a plan that would quantify the need.

“What really concerns me as we move forward is our ability to keep pace with that seems like exponential growth in the city,” Balken said at the meeting.

Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken talks to the Ocala City Council during an Ocala City Council meeting at Ocala City Hall in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.
His answer is to develop a methodology that will give Ocala City Council members an idea of what impact proposed development projects will have on policing.

“I would like to produce a business model plan for the police department,” Balken said, adding he hoped to work with the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership to develop that plan.

Balken said he hopes to plug in the location and number of homes proposed for any development into the plan and estimate the impact on crime and calls for police service.

“The police department works on a grid system,” Balken said. “We can calculate and forecast how much crime will occur in the grid.”

Balken hopes to break down the average time it takes officers to work different calls and then use that information, combined with the crime forecasts to determine the officers needed.

Some of the bigger planned developments in the city include the 391-home Ridge at Heath Brook development along State Road 200, the 5,000-home Calesa Township in Southwest Ocala and the almost 1,000-home West Oaks development on the former 217-acre Pine Oaks golf course.

The recently inaugurated World Equestrian Center and the visitors it attracts are already having an impact, Balken said.

“With all that growth and all the great 300,000-square-foot places, they generate crime. They generate traffic crashes. They generate street obstruction,” he said.

Planning for the future is essential because of the time it takes to bring a police officer online. After recruit school, orientation and a four-month training period, you’re looking at a year to turn out a new officer, Balken said.

“That’s to turn out a very green, very unseasoned 19-year-old cop,” he said.

Both Balken and Mayor Kent Guinn, who oversees the police department, declined to speak further about the plan until it is presented to the city council.

 

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