Trends in Public Safety Spending and Crime

Local and Regional Trends

The first local trend is demonstrated with an amendment to state law. Public Safety Spending remains a popular political choice.

Indiana State Law has recently been amended to allow Indiana counties to pass local income taxes and these taxes may be used for public safety, economic development, or even property tax relief (Shambaugh, 2016).

Boone county has already begun the process of attempting to take advantage of this new law.  Which allows the income tax to pass only if elected bodies representing half of the county’s population approve the tax.

Agreeable taxing

It is no coincidence that the Boone County Sheriff’s office as well as the Zionsville Police Department are the first groups actively to pursue passing the tax available under this new law.

Both agencies perceive under-staffing and neither is meeting resistance politically to passage of this tax due to the perceived under-staffing. See Figure (1) and (2).

Using data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics for year 2014 on police and sheriff patrol earnings. Both the state as a whole and a regional sample of the combined Indianapolis, Carmel area.  They  were below the national average hourly and annual wage for police and sheriff patrol officers.

Figure 1


Figure 2

This perceived understaffing is likely a real problem.  In nearby Indianapolis, for example, consolidated Marion County needs 200 to 300 officers simply to move from 1.7 officers per 1000 residents up to the national average of 2.5 officers per 1000 residents (Duncan, 2014).

Moreover, this is a comparatively relative small number of officers that Indianapolis has working at any given time.  Only approximately 40% are available to answer a 911 call.

There is a high cost and delays associated with officer training.  Moving civilians into internal roles and officers back onto the street has been discussed.  This would be a cheaper but possible alternative to training the full 300 officers needed to bring Indianapolis up to national average levels of officer staffing (Duncan, 2014).

With FBI Employee Data, Figure (3) provides the trend for both Indianapolis total police service employment and specific officer employment.

Figure 3

*Blue = Police Services Officer Employment
*Black = Total Police Services Employment.

From the figure, beginning 2005 with stable officer employment a sharp decrease in total employment was due to reductions in the civilian workforce.

Figure (4) further emphasizes the relationship change between officers and civilians employed on the Indianapolis force.


Figure 4

*Red = Civilian Employment
*Blue = Officer Employment

In Figure (5) a similar relationship is seen at the state level.

Figure 5


*Red = Civilian Employment
*Blue = Officer Employment

 An efficient alternative

As will be discussed later, nationally, utilization of civilianization has been shown to be an efficient alternative to reliance.  Solely on the training of uniformed officers for the majority of positions within a department (Grosskopf, 1995).

National Trends in Public Safety Spending and Crime

Nearby Chicago would seem to agree that under-staffing remains a big problem.  It is with difficulty in replacing retiring officers and the lag time it takes to train uniformed recruits.

Chicago has committed to spend the necessary money to add almost 1000 police officers to their force.  This is in direct response to the highest violence levels since crime rates began to drop some 20 years ago (McLaughlin, 2016).

But, as with Indianapolis, the lag time in training new officers means that these jobs will be added over a two-year period. Local government spending has increased significantly as well.

Local government spending on police services throughout the United States has increased, and markedly, over the last 25 years.  On a per capita basis, national average local police spending went from $75 (inflation adjusted) per person in 1960 to $295 per person by 2008 (Edwards & Bienvenu, 2011).

This growth in the national average spending, which is on the order of 300%, outpaced other local government services and has to some extent crowded out municipal educational, infrastructure, and human services projects. (Edwards & Bienvenu, 2011)

A look at the state level in Figure (6) shows over a decade trend in state police expenditures below national average state police expenditures.

Figure 6

*Blue = Indiana State Police Expenditures
*Red = National State Police Expenditures

Further, Figure (7) shows a relatively stable share of the state budget maintained by police expenditures. Ranging from .6% to 1.1% of the total state budget from 1992-2013.

Figure 7

But do these increased spending levels, and often corresponding staffing levels, actually lead to reduced crime? Crime has decreased markedly as spending has increased over the last 40 years (DeAngelo, 2014).  As far as “bang for the buck” relationships between police spending and crime rates, simply put, the evidence is conflicting. There have been literally dozens of studies, over two dozen of which are cited by Edwards and Bienvenu as mentioned above, that have tried to establish any relationship between policing frequency, spending, and numbers of officers with crime rates, and the majority of studies actually correlate rawer spending on public safety with higher crime or with no effect on crime rates whatsoever (Edwards & Bienvenu, 2011).  Other studies agree that there is no short term correlation between larger police force size and any reduction in crime rate measurements (Chamlin & Sanders, 2008).  But, an important caveat is that although short term size increases in the police force do not affect crime rates, long term increases in crime do lead to greater police force size. Another caveat is that countervailing evidence does exist.  For example, one study notes that more police or public safety projects, as opposed to raw numbers of police lead to lower crime rates overall (Prall, 2014). Further, extremely low crime rate areas have a spillover effect on surrounding areas, lowering their crime rates as well (Kelejian, 1992). But there is some evidence of impacts on crime with spending decisions.

For the state of Indiana Figure (8) and (9) provide trends on total employment and violent crimes involving state police employees.  Referring back to Figure (5), the slight and steady drop in employment is again due to a reduction in the civilians sector with stable officer employment.

Figure 8

*Black = Total of State Employees

*Blue = State Officer Employees

Figure 9

Comparing the trends there is a lag spike of employment with the crime spike of 2003, followed by a reduction in civilian employment while maintaining officer employment.

The evidence is, however, in agreement on at least two points, both of which impact local Indianapolis as well as nationwide public safety spending decisions.   First, all pertinent studies seem to agree that it is important for local policing authorities to know how their police spending and police presence relates to and compares to other similar metropolitan areas’ police spending and presence.  The national average spent on policing (not all areas of “public safety,” but policing) is $295 per capita per annum while the range is from $78 per capita to $853 per capita per annum.  Indianapolis, for example, has significantly smaller numbers of per capita police per 1000 residents than the national average—33% fewer police per 1000 residents, in fact (Duncan, 2014).  This figure would indicate that Indianapolis would be at the lower end of the national average for spending as it is with per capita police presence.  But the studies all agree that these numbers regarding per annum per capita spending on policing and number of police per capita are important to know for comparison’s sake. The second area on which studies seem to agree is that it is as important to know the city crime rate as it is to be aware of the per capita police spending and presence rates.  Although, as discussed above, the evidence regarding correlation between police spending or police presence and crime is mixed, it is generally considered important to know how a city’s crime rates for various offenses compare to its neighbors and to similar sized political units regionally and nationwide.




Figure (10) shows an upward trend in violent crimes for the city of Indianapolis.

Figure 10

Referring to Figures (3) and (4), a correlated trend appears that as total employment increased then crime decreased. A spike of crime appears to follow the year after the sharp drop in total employment. One aspect that may be important to note is the change in employment was due to a dramatic reduction in civilian workers.

Local Structural Trends in Public Safety

Fragmentation of law enforcement seems to have better results than consolidation into one giant police force. Yet, one set of studies argues that the real primary urban problem in sustainable financing of public safety has been the large number of jurisdictions within a single large city.  The argument is that fragmentation leads to confusion in responsibility for service provision as well as reduced political control and scrutiny.  The counter argument is that competition among large numbers of governments leads to lower costs as each government only provides what its small number of citizens’ desire (Dolan, 1990). Perhaps surprisingly, the vast majority of the studies on public safety, and government spending in general, certainly jibe with the Indianapolis experience with consolidation of the local Sheriffs and Police Departments. In short, that less consolidation and more fragmentation and decentralization lead to increased competition efficiency and lower costs with better performance (Boyne, 1992). However, some cities have not caught on to this concept and are still consolidating their public safety forces.

Both Indianapolis and Louisville have, within the last decade, consolidated their city and county police forces in hopes of reducing managerial redundancies and generating economies of scale.  Recently, both cities concluded that the effect of merging police forces with sheriff’s offices was just the opposite…costs went up and the number of officers remained unchanged even as the population grew (Stanich, 2013).  The transition costs outweighed any increased efficiency, and the competition that had led the previously decentralized departments to remain efficient was destroyed. As with raw police spending and numbers of officers per capita, the strong recommendation is to be aware of similar regional cities’ experiences. Louisville consolidated the police and sheriff’s offices first and now that Indianapolis has had a similar cost increasing experience with this type of consolidation, surrounding cities in other regions may want to take heed and avoid repeating this consolidation process and its increased expenses (Stanich, 2013).

The initial conclusion from seminal studies in the 1970s seems to remain true, which is that small and medium sized police services are more successful in battling crime and in maintaining efficient operating costs than much larger consolidated regional services (Ostrom, 1978). One reason may be that larger services tend to de-emphasize patrol in favor of specialized services like investigation, administration, crime labs, and communications. Policing seems mainly to be a local issue.

Eliminating the Box on Employment Apps

The only county in Indiana that prohibits asking about prior convocations on employment applications until after the first interview is consolidated Marion County (Doleac, 2016). Evidence nationally (three dozen “ban the box” jurisdictions have been surveyed) indicates that although those with an actual conviction are assisted in their job search by such bans, minorities and women overall are harmed.

In short, those with a conviction and white males benefit (particularly white males with a previous conviction) while minorities without a conviction and women (who are less likely to have a conviction in the first place) are harmed significantly by such bans (Agan, 2016).

High crime neighborhoods as a whole benefit from banning this box on employment applications, but one response that employers have to this type of ban is to raise experience requirements.  Women almost universally see their opportunities decreased by a ban on this type of question on initial applications, as do minorities in general and almost anyone without a conviction (Shoag, 2015).


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