Some kind of tax is the answer most city leaders seem to prefer.

"I'm not sure we can do it without some kind of tax increase, but I'm just a police chief not a city manager," said Burton.

"We don't have money laying around," Matthes said. "I know some people think there is [money] when they read the budget."

Not all of the police department research turned out negative. Of the six surveyed cities, Columbia's crime rate is the third-lowest, with 476 violent crimes in 2012.

"That's why when one extra murder happens, we freak out, we get worried about it, right, and that's good, that's why we like to live here," Matthes said. "I'd hate to live in a town where that's not a concern."

Chief Burton said his 160 officers responded to more than 72,000 calls for service in 2012. Each one of those calls takes up to 50 minutes on average.

Also, the problems facing Columbia leaders are happening across the country. In Gainesville, Fla., -- one of the cities ABC 17 News surveyed -- officers say pension cuts are making it difficult to hire quality officers.

In Norman, city leaders have a little more than a year before they have to renew a police sales tax.

Burton told ABC 17 News he is looking at ways to better use the officers he already has.

One idea is to bring in civilians for crime scene investigation and public information roles. Another plan already in the works is moving minor property crime reporting to an online form.