Police services—ideal level of local spending?     

Trends in spending. Trends in local budgets.

Local government spending on police services throughout the United States has increased, and markedly, over the last generation. On a per capita basis, local police spending went from $75 (inflation adjusted) per person in 1960. Then to $295 per person by 2008. (Edwards, D. & Bienvenu, B., 2011)

This growth on the order of 300% outpaced other local government services.  To some extent crowded out municipal educational, infrastructure, and human services projects. (Edwards, D. & Bienvenu, B., 2011)

As far as “bang for the buck” relationships between police spending and crime, there have been literally dozens of studies.  Those studies have tried to establish a mathematical relationship between policing and crime outcomes.

More Spending on Police Services

The majority agree that more spending on police either has no effect on crime or actually correlates with higher crime.  The cities that spend the most on police services have the highest crime. (Edwards, D. & Bienvenu, B., 2011)

Moreover, spending per capita, when adjusted for BOTH crime rates cost of living, on policing, varies from $78 to $853 per capita in cities across the United States.

The suggestion that Edwards and Bienvenu makes, is to shift municipal spending from consumables.  In terms of police services to capital.  Transportation, greenspace, and economic development will pay for it by comparing your city to cities around it and lowering municipal policing spending closer to $78 and away from $853 per capita on police services.

Operations—civilians vs. commissioned officers?

  • Productivity, scale, patrolling
  • Civilians vs. cops
  • Fiscal stress

One Municipal response to a recessionary economy and rising crime was to allocate more police functions to civilian (non-uniformed) employees. Much of police spending is dilutive. Meaning that the support apparatus takes up more of the budget than feet on the street.

The feet on the street are largely responding to crime as opposed to preventing it. Grosskopf, S., Hayes, K., & Hirschberg, J. ,1995 and Edwards, D. & Beinvenu, B, 2011)

Surprisingly, given that the output of a police department is not marketable and is thus immune from being measured in the usual economic (profitability) terms.  Grosskopf, Hayes, and Hirschberg found that the police bureaucracy responded with remarkable efficiency in allocation of uniformed and civilian employees to fiscal stress during times of recession and increasing crime.

Politics and Politicians

  • What is the ideal local government structure for crime fighting?
  •  Re-Structuring
  • Consolidation—and the use of BIDs, which seems highly profitable

The structure of governments and this structure’s influence on the costs of public safety is a topic of vociferous debate.  A few traits seem to emerge and others are hotly debated.

It seems clear that county governments with a charter (a mini-constitution) and chief executives (modern, business-like structures) spent more money per capita than old style counties with simple commissions and no CEO. (Benton, 2002)

Of course, the question is whether the provision of more public goods by these reformed, and more business-like, structures of government is good or bad is left unanswered.  In fact, even the question of whether fragmented or consolidated government structures are more efficient is unanswered.

Governmental Units Create

Some scholars believe that more governmental units create competition between the units and are thus more efficient (Boyne, 1992), and there seems to be some local evidence for this proposition.  The consolidation and merger of the Indianapolis Police and the Marion County Sheriff seemed to reduce efficiency, not increase it.

The same consolidation of law enforcement seems to have increased costs and reduced efficiency in Louisville, KY. (Duncan, 2014 and Stanich, 2013)  In short, the traditional wisdom that more law enforcement bureaucracies with overlapping jurisdictions competing with one another actually lowers costs seems not to hold true. (Hendrick, 2011)

The blanket assertion that consolidation lowers costs and creates efficiency also seems wrong.  As the reaction to fiscal stress in local government universally seems to be to decentralize. (Jimenez, 2009)

More than two decades ago, Professor Dolan argued that the solution is that centralized governments are simply more efficient at providing the same amount of service. (Dolan, 1990) The majority of studies indicate that more fragmentation means lower costs for the same level of services. (Boyne, 1992)

It appears that even Dolan would concede that it is single purpose fragmentation (school districts, special taxing districts) that drive up costs of government. Also, that the results of these single purpose units of government may well justify the increased costs. The increased costs actually represent an increased production of a public good.

Justifying Expenses

A good example of these single purpose governmental units that Dolan believes drive up costs but which actually provide a useful public good that justifies the expense are BIDs.

Business Improvement Districts are voluntary taxes that a neighborhood votes to impose on itself.  Usually in the form of a property tax increase. This has been shown to reduce crime by increasing private patrols, security lighting, and other measures like cameras.  Even beautification to parks will improve by up to 10percent.  More efficiently per crime averted than police spending.  (Brooks, 2008)

Certainly, locally, Indianapolis metro areas seem willing to tax themselves to increase security. (Shambaugh, 2106) The number of Indianapolis police officers is below the national average per 1000 resident.  Indianapolis and cities nearby view this ratio as a problem that needs to be addressed. (Duncan, 2104)  The benefits from this type of increased security would seem to be established by the above research.

Moving the force up to size

Nonetheless, despite the success of BIDs (which do correlate government spending with crime reduction) and the unanimous desire of Indianapolis officials to move the police force up to a size that comports with other comparable cities, there is a countervailing bloc of research that shows no relationship between crime rate and police force size. (Chamlin 2008)

There is research showing that more money spent on public safety projects, as opposed to more police, does in fact decrease crime. (Prall, 2014)  Certainly the characteristics of a community, including its capital expenditures and overall wealth suggest outputs of public safety. (Schwab, 1991)

The effect of greater spending on police or public safety really depends on the traits of the community in which the money is spent. (Schwab, 1987)  The only certainty would appear to be that extremely low crime rate areas have a spillover effect on surrounding areas, lowering their crime rates as well. (Kelejian, 1992)

In the end, one school notes that the cities that spend the most on policing also have the highest crime. It also seems unanimous that cities should look at similar cities and spend a similar amount on capital expenditures.

Needing to including crime prevention.  Instead of creating budgets from whole cloth, and that crime itself does respond to spending in that social conditions.  Many of which are addressed by BIDs, which due include security.  These are certainly influenced by municipal spending. (Edwards, 2011)

Courts—do civil forfeiture laws help with crime reduction?

  • Minimum sentencing
  • Civil forfeiture

Civil forfeiture laws attempt to get the “agents” with those who actually interact with the public, like police officers.  Getting them on the same page as the policymakers like politicians and civil servants.

The idea was to offer financial incentives to public service employees similar to what the private sector can offer as far as money bonuses.  The result has been that as police confiscate drug related assets, the local governments simply allocate less funding to police agencies. (Baicker, 2007)

Thus, the incentive monies are actually being co-opted by the local governments themselves.  Public sector financial incentives are generally thus discredited in all areas and not just public safety.

Banning “the Box” Do these bans actually work to help reduce crime or help with reintegrating citizens?

Jurisdictions across the United States have, recently, as in within the last two decades, begun prohibiting employers from asking job applicants about any criminal history until at least one interview has occurred.  At which time, an ex-offender could ostensibly demonstrate his or her job readiness.

This prohibition on asking about any criminal history is called “banning the box.”  This means removing the box where criminal convictions would be checked off from all employment applications.

Research has considered over 30 “Ban the Box” policies at different levels of government, effective from 2004 to January of 2014. The research shows unanimously that eliminating this criminal conviction inquiry harms unskilled African American and Hispanic men.  Surveyed in roughly three dozen counties, states and municipalities that have banned the box asking about criminal history. (Doleac, J. & Hansen, B., 2016)

Instituting a ban

The federal government has also instituted such a ban. Indianapolis (consolidated Marion County) also prohibits inquiry into criminal history until after the first interview and is the only city in Indiana to do so.

Minority applicants for jobs who actually do have a conviction on their records are assisted by these laws.  Minorities, overall, seem to be harmed as more likely to be excluded from interviews. Whites with a conviction were actually helped the most statistically. (Agan, A. and Starr, S. 2016)

It has also been recently discovered that residents of high crime areas who are more likely to have a conviction in general, benefit from “banning the box.”  While women, who are less likely to have convictions, are harmed. (Shoag, D. and Vauger, S. 2016)

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that these findings on banning of the box jibe with earlier studies showing that statistical discrimination actually is shown to increase against minorities.  These minorities who are applying for jobs, as employers have less precise information about employees.

Even in the face of testing, that is unfavorable to minority groups as a whole.  Although minority candidates did worse on (some forms) of testing as a whole.  The percentage of minority candidates hired did not change when the testing that ostensibly hurt minorities was used. While the quality of employees chosen were more productive with the use of “discriminatory” testing.

In Ending about Police Services

In short, both discrimination against minority applicants were worse, and the quality of the hired workforce was worse when no testing of any kind was used.  This held true even when a given test may have seen minorities do statistically worse.

No information apparently harms minority job applicants worse than potentially harmful information. (Author, D.H. and Scarborough, D., 2008) Some information is better for minorities than no information.  This often studied result, apparently holds true even for the “convictions box” on job applications.

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