The San Marcos Police Department spends almost $12 million responding to calls every year, but its cost is low compared to those of surrounding cities due in part to the demographics of the college town.
SMPD received 76,501 calls in fiscal year 2012, averaging $156.86 per call for service. Howard Williams, San Marcos police chief, said the cost per call includes “everything it takes to run the department,” such as personnel expenses, salaries and benefits, uniforms, cars, weapons and bullets. Williams said the violent crime rate in San Marcos is low, and those types of calls “take up a lot of resources.”
He said last year the most frequent call SMPD received was noise complaints about loud parties. He said if receiving noise-complaint calls is the worst problem the department has, it is not comparable to dealing with a “handful of shootings or stabbings.” He said the large number of summons dealing with issues that “really aren’t that serious” drives SMPD’s cost per call down.
The cost of the calls is being paid with taxpayer dollars, sometimes through grants the police department receives from the government. In essence, the police department is financed through the city’s general fund.
SMPD gathered information from several cities statewide to compare expenses from 2011 in a presentation given to the community last year. The presentation showed the department’s cost per call of $155.75 fell at the lower end of the spectrum compared to surrounding cities.
As far as service presentation, the cities compared included Austin, Cedar Park, College Station, Denton, Georgetown, New Braunfels, Round Rock, Temple and San Marcos. Williams said the department asked the cities to share their total budgets from 2011 and number of calls that year.
Williams said College Station has the highest cost per call at $240.57, while Cedar Park has the lowest at $107.01. Many factors contribute to those costs, such as officers’ salaries, operating expenses and capital expenditures. SMPD made all of the calculations used in the presentation.
Williams said there were five cities with a higher cost per call for service than San Marcos. According to the presentation, the cities are College Station, Denton, Austin, Round Rock and Temple. New Braunfels, Georgetown and Cedar Park had a lower cost per call than San Marcos.
Williams said the cost was calculated by taking the total budget expenses and dividing them by the number of calls received. However, the costs of different types of calls vary. For example, an officer may respond to a disabled-vehicle call, but sometimes the car is already gone by the time police arrive. Williams said that kind of call is very inexpensive. However, a police department may receive a homicide call, which requires several officers for multiple days, and “tons and tons of money” is spent each hour.
Stephen Hanna, New Braunfels Police Department lieutenant, said his office receives approximately 48,000 to 50,000 calls per year. Because New Braunfels is a tourist-oriented town, calls increase as the summer months approach. San Marcos may experience the opposite, with a decrease in calls during the summer from school being out.
Williams said they used the compiled data to determine the expense per capita of what it costs “every person in the community by population to run the police department.” Austin was the highest at $308.62, while Cedar Park was the lowest again at $137.99. SMPD fell at $181.50.
Williams said Austin probably has the highest-paid police department in the southern United States, which is why the cost per capita may be more expensive for it. However, he said the department takes “a ton of calls.”
Vaneza Bremner,senior officer, said in an email her office received 813,621 calls for service in 2011 and 769,987 in 2012.
“The amount of money that we spend in our police department is kind of below average of all these cities,” Williams said. “We’ve got a pretty good bang for our buck.”
Councilwoman Kim Porterfield, Place 1, said SMPD not only does a “great job” of responding to calls and incidents in town but is proactive with various programs.
“That’s one of the things I’m happy about with the San Marcos Police Department,” Porterfield said. “And certainly providing services at a lower cost to the community. That’s important too.”