City, State Spending on Police Nearly Tripled Since 1977

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Photo by William Oliver via Flickr

As communities across the nation debate police reform, spending has become an urgent issue. State and local governments spent $115 billion on police in 2017,  nearly triple the amount spent, in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $42 billion in 1977.

“An examination of government finance data can inform—but in no way settle—larger debates around policing,” said the Urban Institute.

“Government spending on police is not merely a set of numbers but, rather, the culmination of a long history of policy choices, including many rooted in persistent structural racism.”

Most of this spending (86 percent) was by local governments. States typically fund highway patrols, and local dollars support sheriffs’ offices and police departments.

“Across the U.S., police spending accounted for roughly $1 of every $10 spent by counties, municipalities, and townships and $1 of every $100 spent by states,” said the Urban Institute.

As communities try to discover how much of their municipal budgets goes toward policing, some advocates are sharing data showing localities spending close to half.

New York City spent $5.7 billion on police in 2017. However, that was just 6 percent of its budget, because New York City public school spending was included in the city budget—and accounted for one-third of the city’s spending, said the Urban Institute.

The average spending on police for jurisdictions with more than 1 million people was 9.7 percent in 2017. The average for jurisdictions with fewer than 50,000 people was 16.7 percent.

Overall, across the country, police spending was 4 percent of state and local direct general expenditures in 2017, the last year for which data is available.

This is far less than what state and local governments spent on public welfare (mostly Medicaid) and K–12 education, but more than many other services, including housing and community development.

Roughly two-thirds of police spending is for payroll, said the article.

“A large reason why New York state spent the most per capita in 2017 ($529) and Kentucky spent the least ($186) is simply because the former pays its police officers more than the latter because of cost of living,” said the Urban Institute.

The article, “What People Spending Data Can (and Cannot) Explain Amid Calls to Defund the Police,” written by Richard C. Auxier, can be read here.

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