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The Cops are Overfunded. Here are the Charts to Prove it.
And a few words on how to fix it.
Since its popularization following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, the slogan Defund The Police has taken center stage in the culture war. And like most cultural issues, the facts have taken a backseat to aimless screaming and shouting.
Crime has increased slightly since the peak of COVID in 2020, but the nation as a whole is far below where it was just a few decades prior.
While there are many theories for this recent uptick (I find the explanation of economic distress following COVID most convincing), many have seized this sole data point like a fumbled football and taken off for the only end zone they know: “We need more cops.”
The often-repeated claim that less money for cops = more crime is false. To prove it, here are the police budgets of four major cities alongside corresponding crime rates.
With a founding predating America itself,
West Dublin Boston is home to one of the nation’s oldest police departments. Centuries of knowledge and expertise have been passed down through BPD, helping even the youngest officers learn the in’s-and-out’s of their craft, such as stealing from the taxpayers.
Paying 39% more to deal with half the crime is a waste, especially considering BPD spent it on Hummers to run over peaceful protestors.
Pro Tip for this guy: The red light means the camera’s on. (“Red” is the color you saw when your 6th wife left you for her yoga instructor)
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New York City
As the 33rd largest military spender on the planet, NYPD is far and away the most expensive police force in the country. It’s also notorious for Stop N’ Frisk, a fun way to say “the 4th Amendment doesn’t apply to Black people.” (Side note:
A slate of grisly killings has put NYC safety back in the spotlight, and new mayor Eric Adams has made it clear he plans to respond by increasing NYPD’s foot presence. But there’s lacking evidence this approach works, as the largest share of the NYPD budget already goes to foot patrol units, meaning Adams’s plan is just throwing good money after bad. This “more cops” mentality sounds tough but does little to increase public safety.
The Wakanda of White people, Denver is notorious for its homelessness and the crime that coattails it. Colorado is currently experiencing a state-wide rise in violent crime, but is still significantly below its early-90s peak.
According to FBI data above, 1990 saw approximately 1,100 violent crimes before falling, then rebounding to about 850 violent crimes in 2020. During that same time of 1990-2020, the Denver police budget rose from $107.8 million to $250.1 million. That’s a 17% increase in funding (adjusted for inflation) to oversee 23% less crime.
Not only does it show DPD’s overfunding, but the Denver data strongly rebukes those who claim “more police funding lowers crime.” If that were true, then DPD’s budget would be inversely correlated to the crime rate. But looking at the orange line in the chart above, we can see Denver crime has fallen and risen independently of rising police budgets. In fact, Denver crime rates indicate a much strong correlation between non-police factors, such as the national hate crime wave following 9/11 (rise from 2001-2005) and the opioid crisis (2015 and onward).
Despite what the data indicates, the overfunding of the Denver Police Department has continued. 43% of the city’s 2022 public safety budget went to cops. As a Denverite, I can confirm the most pressing issue gripping the city is homelessness. This money would’ve been much better spent funding the city’s homeless shelters than paying the police to do little more than tear down encampments.
The most notorious police department in the country, LAPD has a long history of brutality and corruption. But L.A. legislators aren’t one to let a mere century of poor performance stop the boys in blue from getting their green.
From 1989 to 2020, the yearly number of violent crimes fell from 141,147 to 54,600. That’s a staggering reduction of over 258%.
Comparatively, the budget has risen from $528.4 million (1989) to $2 billion (fiscal 2021). Adjusting for inflation, the ’89 budget is about $1.1 billion in today’s dollars. That means the people of Los Angeles are paying almost a billion more dollars to handle 1/3 of the crime.
Critics will look at the data above and claim: “Aha! You see? More police funding makes the crime go down! You’ve proved my point!”
Not only is this argument an example of the “correlation = causation” fallacy, but it ignores what we see in the data. As I pointed out in the Denver paragraph, crime rates rise and fall in accordance with social phenomena independent of the police budget.
This argument would also have to ignore the entire rest of the world, which has been experiencing a crime drop in parallel to the United States since the 1980s. There are many explanations for this drop, from video games, to reproductive justice, to increased opportunity in an ever-connected global economy, but to credit this new world peace to buying cops gas-guzzling tanks and automatic weapons is nonsensical. Not only do other countries spend less on policing, they spend less on their militaries. As of 2019, U.S. police spending ranked as the 3rd largest military expenditure.
Despite this massive spending, our cops are trained less…
And kill more people…
Every country structures and funds policing differently. There are many ways to keep the public safe besides police, such as increased school funding, social workers who can respond to mental health crises, and public addiction treatment facilities. The optimal solution will probably involve a mix of many programs, including some form of policing (though we should probably follow Georgia’s lead and rebuild the entire force). But to pretend armed agents of the state, who have repeatedly shown the American public they believe themselves judge, jury, and executioner are only recourse to crime is a deadly myth.
Call it whatever you want, but the obvious answer to America’s policing issues is to reallocate a portion of inflated budgets into other public safety efforts.
What do you think is the solution to America’s policing problems? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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