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Where Does Police Funding Go?

Where Does Police Funding Go?

Over the last few years, police funding has become considerably more scrutinized around the country. The amount spent on police has become a national talking point, whether it is with the goal of defunding police, raising accountability for their spending, or distributing resources differently. Although recently it has become commonplace to see politicians and others talking about police funding, we rarely see a deep dive into where this money is actually going. The prevalence of the issue might have you wondering, where does police funding actually go?

As with most jobs, the majority of police funding goes towards payroll. This includes the police themselves, administrative personnel, and everyone down to IT personnel within the department. Outside of this, you will commonly see the most money being spent on supplies such as vehicles, contracts for things such as maintenance and labs, and pensions, which are still commonplace among police and fire departments. Although there are many other line items for police spending, the above accounts for over 90% of the typical budget.

Where Does Police Funding Come From?

When it comes to the question of police funding, people often wonder where the money is coming from. Is it coming from their local tax dollars? Perhaps state tax or even federal income tax? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, so let’s cover all the bases from local to state and federal.

Local Expenses – Far and away the highest percentage of funding comes from local governments. Out of all the police spending in the United States, about 87% of that is done by local governments. This is simply because most police forces are local. An example would be the LAPD or NYPD. 

State Expenses – As far as state spending for police goes, the number is much lower. Only about 1% of most states’ budget is spent on policing. This usually goes to highway patrols, and some states also have an investigative division similar to the FBI but on a state level. Whereas most local municipalities take care of police funding, the State will usually cover most of the correctional costs which include prisons. 

Federal Expenses – According to the US Department of Justice, there are about 100,000 federally funded sworn officers in the country. The majority of these work for the FBI and Customs and Border Protection. In addition to Federal officers, the government also provides grants to help fund local police. For example, the COPS program, a federal program to help hire local officers, provided $400 million to various cities across the country in the year 2020 alone.

What Percent of the Budget Goes to Police?

In the United States, spending as a percent of each cities budget varies widely. This can be caused by numerous things. Quite often, more densely populated areas will need more police. This would result in a higher police budget just to cover the payroll expenses alone.

Another thing aspect that affects the budget would be the cost of living in an area. A police officer in New York City would have a much higher cost of living than one in rural Alabama. So even with the same amount of police per capita, the cost would be much higher in New York. This of course does not necessarily correlate to what percent of the budget goes to policing, as this is an individual policy position unique to each municipality.

According to the Action and Race Economy Center, cities spend on average between 25% to 40% of their annual budget on policing. Again, this varies widely by location so a few examples are listed below.

The same source states that New York City allocates roughly 8% of its budget to police. This is compared to roughly 26% of the budget in Los Angeles. However, as stated above the percentages are not all that they seem. The 8% budget for New York translates to 436 officers per 100,000 citizens. The much larger percentage for Los Angeles only equates to 249 officers per 100,000 citizens. 

How Much Money Does a Police Officer Make?

Over 90% of the typical police department budget goes towards payroll. This is salary and benefits for officers, administrative staff, and anyone else employed by the department. As stated above when dealing with budgets, the salary of officers varies widely among municipalities. 

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average officer salary in the United States is $70,000. The discrepancy between highest and lowest paid is vast, so below are the 2 highest and 2 lowest salaries of police officers by state.

Highest

  • California – $105,220
  • Alaska – $87,870

Lowest

  • Mississippi – $36,290
  • Arkansas – $40,570

Does the United States Spend the Most on Police?

The above question is difficult to answer. When it comes to the number of police officers the United States, with roughly 700,000 officers is far behind India and China, which each has over 2 million. Russia is also ahead of the United States, with roughly 750,000. 

Making the picture even foggier is the fact that both China and Russia do not release information on the amount spent on police. There is readily available information on their defense budgets, but this usually goes towards military and not domestic police presence. 

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tracks numbers that allow us to compare the spending on police when as a percentage of GDP. Unfortunately, there are currently only 38 member countries in the OECD, and Russia, China, and India are not members. This removes the 2 largest countries by population from the equation.

Based on the percentage of GDP among OECD members, the US actually sits squarely in the middle. Hungary sits at the top of the list, spending 1.4% of its GDP. Finland is at the bottom, spending roughly 0.5%. The United States spends roughly 1% of its GDP, which places it at 16th most among the 38 members.

So while we might not have the exact dollar amounts to compare, we can see the United States is right in the middle when it comes to spending as a percent of GDP.

Police Budget Case Study: San Diego, California

Where Does Police Funding Go - San Diego PD

What police spend their money on varies by location. Previously in the article, it was mentioned that over 90% of spending is on payroll. The other 10% is where each city and municipality has more freedom and can allocate spending on particular areas of the department as they see fit. To get a better picture of the spending, below we will do an analysis on the budget of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) for the year 2020.

The total budget for the SDPD in 2020 was $539.2 million. Personnel expenses account for $472.3 million, whereas the remaining $66.9 million are considered non-personnel expenses. The below chart illustrates the spending as laid out by the SDPD.

PERSONNEL EXPENSES $ 472,318,619
SALARY AND WAGES $239,267,988
OVERTIME $32,062,338
FRINGE BENEFITS $200,988,293
NON PERSONNEL EXPENSES $ 66,944,310
SUPPLIES 6,849,865
CONTRACTS 17,156,094
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY 3,308,665
ENERGY AND UTILITIES 933,801
OTHER 400,000
CAPITAL EXPENDITURES 50,246
NON-DISCRETIONARY 38,245,639
TOTAL $ 539,262,929

Digging deeper, the personnel expenses are fairly straightforward. “Fringe Benefits” account for over $200 million. Included in fringe benefits are things such as health insurance, paid vacation, and retirement plans. The spend on these benefits is nearly the same as salaries, taking up a huge chunk of the budget.

Supplies for the SDPD consist of things such as police vehicles, weapons, uniforms, and body cameras. However, this slice of the budget also accounts for supplies within the building itself such as janitorial equipment.

The contracts section, which accounts for over $17 million, has a huge amount of line items. The largest contracts listed include the Jail and Detention facilities, Impounding of vehicles, helicopter maintenance, and facility maintenance. All of these are run by third parties that have signed contracts with the police department. 

The other largest non-personnel expense is non-discretionary funds. These are funds that the department cannot decide on. They are allocated by the Department of Finance for the city of San Diego. These include $22 million in IT costs and $19 million in fleet vehicle and fuel costs.

Outside of personnel expense, there isn’t much wiggle room for spending. As the number of officers goes up or down, so goes the expenses. 

What Else Could the Money be Spent On?

Finally, what else could the money be spent on? Advocates of reducing the police budget envision that money being spent elsewhere in the community. They envision police being sent to fewer situations that don’t call for them. For example, a drug overdose would have an EMT sent instead of the police.

Common thoughts of allocation for the money would be social services such as mental health and more help for homelessness. Additionally, proponents say increasing funding for schools, housing, and food in underserved communities would help prevent crime without the need for additional officers.

Certain cities such as Austin, Texas have even begun buying hotels that they would use for housing the homeless. 

Final Thoughts

The United States spends over $100 billion per year on police. The majority of this funding comes from state and local funds, while portions are being paid for by the Federal government.

The majority of spending is for payroll. In simple terms, the more officers there are, the higher the budget. Budgets are complicated, and especially so for police. As living costs and inflation continue to increase, expect budgets, including that of police, to increase as well.

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References:

  • https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/20-21_analysis_of_the_police_departments_fy_2021_budget_complete_rpt.pdf
  • https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/how-police-compare-different-democracies
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2020/04/23/police-officer-salary-state/?sh=2ea5d7bd2010
  • https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-06/new-york-city-s-police-budget-is-increasing-again
  • https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2020/08/the-blue-budget-what-major-cities-spend-on-police/
  • https://www.investopedia.com/how-are-police-departments-funded-5115578
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