Number of police

FBI’s per capita averages are hard to apply to a community that is so seldom average

Durango has more police officers per person than the average for Colorado cities. Most city residents would probably say that is a good thing.

But such statistics muddy the better question: How many officers should Durango have? And to that, the answer may well be – more.

The idea that Durango has a greater than average number of police comes from FBI statistics, which show Durango with 3.2 officers per 1,000 residents compared with a statewide average of 1.9 officers per 1,000 residents. And knowing that does lend some perspective to the city’s costs and staffing.

But only some. To see its limits, look to the two words “average” and “residents.”

There is precious little about Durango that is average. In a many ways – climate, physical beauty, civic spirit, recreation, food, entertainment – this town exceeds average. In some others – the ratio of wages to rent comes to mind – it is worse than average. “Average” is just not a word that typically can be applied to Durango.

There is also the fact that Durango puts on 195 special events each year, mostly on Main Avenue. Every one of those requires some attention from the authorities, even if for nothing more than traffic control.

And then there is the denominator. Durango police officers do not limit their protection or policing to residents of the city. The ratio of 3.2 officers per 1,000 residents is probably an accurate description of Durango’s policing – after dark in April or November.

Census data show Durango’s 2010 population as just shy of 17,000. In the daytime, however, that swells to almost 27,000 as residents of surrounding areas come into town to work, shop or play.

The number of tourists at any given time is harder to quantify, but obviously has an impact. Tourists are not inherently troublesome, but they do have fender-benders or need help from time to time. Such seasonal variations affect the ratio of officers to residents dramatically.

Demographics figure in as well. With a college and so many tourism and recreation-based jobs, Durango has a high percentage of youths whose enthusiasm for life can occasionally get the better of them.

No, Durango is not over-policed. The FBI numbers reflect a simplistic analysis that simply does not fit this town. Given all that goes on here, it is easier to argue that Durango police officers are stretched too thin.