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How Do Police Departments Make Money?

How Do Police Departments Make Money?

I drive past the bustling police station every morning in my mad rush to get the kids to school and I often wonder to myself “how do police departments make money?” Maybe you have randomly wondered this too. If that is the case, I did some research for both of us!

Police departments are typically funded by taxes, donations, and federal grants. There are multiple departments that provide these grants such as the Department of Justice and surprisingly even the Department of Agriculture. If you’ve ever wondered if they somehow benefit from any tickets or fines you have received, the answer is that yes they do, but not in the way that you probably think. 

If you have ever needed the police, I am sure that you appreciated their willingness to help. Did you ever stop and wonder where the funding came from that helped pay for the car that they drive? That radio that they communicate with? The stations that they report back to or why some of them are called different things? Read on to find out all you have ever wanted to know about funding for law enforcement agencies.

Police Departments Started When?

I was surprised to find that the first police force was created in Boston, the year 1838! Businesses were multiplying and citizens wanted a source of protection put in place for all of their hard work. Slowly thereafter, other cities started adopting the idea and by the late 1800s, all major cities had their own law enforcement agencies. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that law enforcement really started to evolve in the policing style that we see today.

Present police departments run 24/7 and are always in motion. They aren’t technically a business, though they offer many services not limited to assisting when you are lost, searching for runaways, providing information, education, criminal investigations, ordering maintenance, locating lost pets, fingerprinting, enforcing the law, and responding to violations of the law. The services they offer often require extensive training or expensive equipment in order to perform them adequately. Police always respond quickly and seem to genuinely want to help. Wondering how they manage to afford everything that they need to do it all? Keep reading!

Currently, there are about 20,000 local and state police agencies in the United States. They can be broken down into a few main categories such as state police, county sheriffs, city police, and special district police units.

A Few Categories of Police Agencies

State police or state troopers usually wear wide-brimmed hats and those famous shiny star-shaped badges! They are funded by the state, usually earn a bit more than the city police, and have many varying roles that can include keeping the roadways safe. This could mean keeping drivers from speeding, preventing suspected drunk drivers from putting themselves or others in danger, and assisting when someone experiences car trouble or is involved in an accident. State police often also have special units focusing on specific functions such as forensics, illegal drugs, scuba, or cybercrimes.

City police are funded by, you guessed it, the city! These are typically larger forces than the state police, though this can vary by location. City police are restricted to operating within their jurisdiction, or within city limits. They respond to emergent and non-emergent scenarios, conduct investigations, enforce the law, and keep citizens safe.

County police or sheriffs often do many of the same tasks that other classifications of police do, however they are limited by jurisdiction within county lines, and not state or city lines. They are able to cross over city boundaries as long as they fall within county limits. The county sheriff is usually responsible for maintaining the law outside of city limits, where other agencies are not able to regularly patrol or respond.

While they all may have different titles or categories and jurisdictions, the purpose of each law enforcement agency is the same; to protect and serve others.

What Federal Grants Do Police Departments Receive? 

Policing is the second-largest budget in the United States of America, with education being the first. In 2017 the United States dished out an average of 193 billion dollars annually to law enforcement agencies alone! Grants assist police departments in a variety of ways such as personnel costs, animals and animal equipment, training, conferences, technology, purchasing weapons, surveillance, computer equipment, vehicles, and more. Multiple agencies of the U.S. supply grants to police departments, some seem pretty obvious, while others may shock you! Let’s just look at a few, to get an idea of where the money comes from.

  • The Department of Justice oversees a couple of the largest programs such as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) which provides approximately $435 million each year, and the well-known Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program which has supplied billions of dollars in order to hire and train officers in areas where they were most needed.
  • The Patrick Leahy Bulletproof Vest Partnership is another initiative provided by the Department of Justice and is probably my favorite one since my husband is often working alongside police officers when there are riots and protests. The BVP has assisted in supplying many millions of dollars to help purchase critical resources in thousands of police departments across the United States. Some items purchased include MILLIONS of protective body vests and the ever-popular body cameras we often see or hear about!
  • The Department of Homeland Security supplies billions of dollars to communities in preparedness grants and as part of the agreement, a minimum of 25% of this funding must be supplied to local law enforcement agencies.
  • The Department of Defense has a seemingly controversial 1033 Program that provides surplus military equipment to police agencies. This can include vehicles that are created to withstand bullets and roadside bombs, assault rifles, knives, night vision equipment, scopes, bomb detonator robots, airplanes, helicopters, camouflage gear, building materials, and even toiletries!
  • The Department of Agriculture may be surprising to you since most would assume that they are completely unrelated to law enforcement. It turns out, they actually supply grants to aid police departments in building police stations, and even purchase police cruisers!

Do Police Operate Off of Incentives? 

The short answer is no, they do not. Police officers are paid by salary or contracted hourly wages whether they are assisting in stopping a bank robbery, gang fight or just pulling you over for driving too fast! On occasion, they can rack up some overtime if an incident, court appearance, or arrest goes over those allotted hours. They are never encouraged to write more tickets or stop more drivers in order to receive a monetary reward. In fact, the money from the fines paid on tickets or citations generally goes back into the state revenue, not back to the police department specifically.

However, the number or types of arrests, assets seized, solved cases, etc. can all indirectly benefit the officers because those stats could ultimately influence the amount of money the department itself receives in the budget. Officers could benefit at this point if the increase in the budget allowed for bonuses or a number of promotions.

When assets connected to a crime are seized, they become the property of the local police department. These assets can include vehicles, jewelry, or even cash. Regulations can vary by state but typically any seized cash would be reported to the federal government and the department would be permitted to keep or use a percentage of the total amount. In some cases, police departments may be required to give the money to a good cause. Any of the unclaimed items can be auctioned off publicly and the amount of the winning bid would therefore profit the department directly. Sometimes law enforcement agencies can even auction off outdated equipment or equipment that is no longer needed.

Conclusion – How Do Police Departments Make Money?

From now on whenever you drive past your local police department or you see a police cruiser at the gas station, you will have a clearer understanding of how their departments make money. There are thousands of departments throughout the United States, and through the cooperation and cross effort of many agencies, these departments all receive funding through various avenues including grants. 

Police officers do not operate with incentives in mind, however, the department may benefit if the statistics earn a budget or funding increase. When a property is seized and auctioned off, that can benefit the police department financially. Titles and categories may matter as far as jurisdictions and boundaries but in the big picture, all departments have the same goals in mind. Enforcing the law and reducing crime. With what purpose? You nailed it; to protect and serve.

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