Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Dewhurst revisits “apples to carburetors”

David Dewhurst revisits a comparison between border agents and New York police officers.
David Dewhurst revisits a comparison between border agents and New York police officers.

In a new tweet, U.S. Senate candidate David Dewhurst compares the Border Patrol to the New York Police Department and cries foul.

His June 26, 2012, post says: "What's wrong with this picture? Only 18,506 Border Patrol agents on southern border, but NYPD has 35K officers?" The tweet points followers to his plan for border security, which includes this: "The total number of U.S. Border Patrol agents is less than the number of the New York police, which has approximately 34,500 uniformed officers." He says in his plan that in 2011, the government employed 21,444 Border Patrol agents.

In May 2010, we found flaws in a similar Dewhurst claim: "You’ve got almost twice as many cops in New York city as you do on our entire border." His numbers mostly held up, though. Counting only border agents that work the southern and northern borders, the NYPD force was about 81 percent larger than the Border Patrol, almost twice the size, as Dewhurst says. That calculation leaves out the Border Patrol agents who work coastal waters. If you add those, the New York force is 73 percent larger.

However, we wondered if it’s reasonable to compare the two forces.

Law enforcement and criminal justice experts told us the two organizations have dramatically different missions and environments. The New York Police Department responds to calls for service from the city’s more than 8 million residents and numerous visitors, while fighting all kinds of crime, in a dense urban area. In contrast, the experts said, the Border Patrol has much narrower responsibilities, which they have to fulfill across vast spaces -- much of it sparsely populated.

Even comparing staffing levels of different police departments can be tricky. The usual basis for comparison is the number of sworn officers per 1,000 residents. Those ratios vary widely across the country and even from city to city. Based on the most recent numbers available, New York's ratio in 2008 was 4.3 officers per 1,000 residents; the national rate was 2.5.

"It’s often like comparing apples to carburetors because there is so much difference in how departments use people," said Craig Fraser, director of management services for the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit research and consulting group in Washington. In some cities, police officers do jobs that are performed by civilian personnel elsewhere. Some police departments have fewer officers because other local law enforcement agencies, like a sheriff’s office, pick up slack.

Because his comparison took the staffing numbers out of their proper context, we rate his statement as Half True.