Public Safety: 2017 Census of Governments Data

The need for different public services rises and falls over time, as demographic and social conditions change.  As this is being written, there is a great need for public Health and Hospital services.   When the Baby Boomers were school age, and when their children, the Millennials were at the same age, the demand was greatest for Elementary and Secondary Education.  The shift from rural America to the cities and then from the cities to the suburbs was associated with high spending on infrastructure.  The different lifestyle preferences and diminished income and wealth of Millennials, and global warming, ought to induce another infrastructure wave.  During World War II, military spending dominated government budgets.

The Baby Boomers drove another shift in public spending priorities, in addition to education.  As perhaps the most criminal generation in U.S. history their young adult years, from the 1960s to the early 1990s, saw a massive violent crime wave that led to a huge increase in spending on Police Protection and Corrections.  As they got older, a white collar crime wave followed.  Subsequent generations have been less likely to commit street crimes as young adults, less likely to be teenage or single parents, less likely to become divorced, less likely to drop out of school.  One might expect that spending on Police Protection and Corrections would have fallen sharply in the years since, per $1,000 of the personal income of those paying for it.

For many elected officials, public union leaders, and contractors, however, the purpose of government spending is to provide money for interest groups in exchange for political support, not to meet the needs of the people.  So spending on a particular function doesn’t always decline with need, let alone due to productivity gains. It fact it usually doesn’t.  That was the case for military spending after World War II, when President and former General Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex.   That was the case for public schools in New York City, where spending didn’t increase as the Millennials entered school age in the 1990s, and didn’t decrease as they exited in the 2010s.  How about spending on Police Protection and Correction?


My posts based on an analysis of data from the 2017 Census of Governments continue with this one on Public Safety – Police Protection, Corrections, and Fire Protection.   This post, and those to follow, represent a departure from the public services and benefits previously discussed.  As I originally wrote many years ago in a series of posts on “Equity and Eligibility” on the Room Eight blog, which can be downloaded as an MS-Word document from here

In 1995 just one third of all public spending – federal state and local — was on services to the public as a whole.  It would be considerably less than that today.  The services and benefits provided by most government spending are limited to those eligible, based on age  (public education for the young, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for the old), means  (means tested aid to the needy, Medicaid for adults), and needs  (health care and income support for the disabled).    Federal spending is almost entirely devoted to eligibility-limited services and benefits, and spending on everything else has plunged over the decades.

At the state and local government level, spending on Elementary and Secondary Education, Higher Education, Hospitals and Medical Vendor Payments, and Aid to the Needy, discussed in the previous posts, accounted for more than half of total expenditures.

As for the local government functions that will be discussed from here on, their extent varies widely from place to place.  In some rural areas, the only general local services available are a road, the police, a county jail, and a few officials, who may be part-time.  In New York, these areas are generally located in unincorporated “townships.” If people want more public services, they organize additional special districts and municipalities, such as villages and cities.   New York City has public water, public sewers, public transit, public airports and seaports, public ferries, public trash collection, public parks and cultural facilities, public libraries, and professional fire protection. Since some places have these services and others do not, comparisons between NYC and the national average are less useful.

But everyplace has police.  A spreadsheet with Census of Governments data on Police Protection, Corrections, and Fire Protection, and most of the charts used in this post, is here.


These spreadsheets have line charts of state level data (with NYC and the Rest of NY State separately) for 1972 to 2017.

Police ALL-YEAR 2017

Corrections ALL-YEAR 2017

Including some you will not see below, in the interest of brevity.

A table with data for all the states for FY 2017 is here.

The discussion begins with Police Protection.

In FY 2017, the State of New York and its local governments spent $8.06 per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income on Police Protection, 18.3% more than the U.S. average of $6.81 and ninth highest in the country. The highest spending states or equivalent were, in order, Washington, DC ($11.53), Nevada ($9.13), Alaska ($8.68), New Mexico ($8.62), Florida ($8.44), Arizona ($8.35), Rhode Island ($8.10), and California ($8.09).  Spending was below average in most of the Northeast, with just $6.04 spent in New Jersey, $5.66 in Pennsylvania, $4.56 in Connecticut, $6.73 in Vermont, $5.33 in New Hampshire, and $4.99 in Maine.  Crime has historically been relative low in the Northeast, and Midwest as well, compared with the South and West, with the level in some cities during the 1960s to early 1990s crime wave as an exception.

For the U.S. as a whole, state government Police Protection expenditures totaled just $0.93 per $1,000 of personal income, compared with $5.89 at the local government level.  So Police Protection was 86.4% a local government function, with the state police in a supporting role, with 13.6% of the expenditures.  The state police, however, account for a larger share of total expenditures in some Northeastern states – 27.5% in Pennsylvania, 33.1% in Massachusetts, 29.1% in Maine, and fully 47.6% in Vermont.  Most large urban states such as New York (8.2%), California (9.8%), Florida (6.8%), Illinois (7.8%), Ohio (9.0%), and Wisconsin (2.4%) have less of their Police Protection spending at the state government level.

When allocating state government taxes and spending between New York City and the Rest of New York State, I have generally done so in proportion to personal income.  Notwithstanding Governor Cuomo’s attempt to inject more state police into NYC more recently, however, I think it is fair to assign all of the state police to the rest of the state for FY 2017.  That is whom the New York State police actually served at the time.  Even without any allocation of state police spending, however, if NYC had been a separate state it would have ranked second in the country at $9.24 per $1,000 of personal income, only behind Washington DC, where the police also have the job of protecting the federal government.   The Rest of New York State would have ranked 17that $6.97, just below Ohio and ahead of Oregon.

For local government Police Protection expenditures alone, New York City’s $9.24 spent per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income was well above the U.S. average of $5.89.  The Downstate Suburbs as a whole were also well above the U.S. average, at $6.81.  On the other hand the Upstate Urban Counties at $5.00, and the rural and small city counties in the Rest of New York State at just $3.76, were well below the U.S. average although I believe that is where the state police do most of their work.  On an individual county basis Nassau County was almost as high as NYC at $9.21 per $1,000 of personal income, with Suffolk ($6.75).

A table of FY 2017 Public Safety expenditures per $1,000 of personal income for different areas of New York State and for counties elsewhere is here.

While high compared with the national average and rest of the state, and high compared with many of the counties containing the nation’s largest and other prominent cities, New York City’s Police Protection expenditures were smaller than some other cities.  The $9.24 per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income for New York was lower than not only the $11.53 for Washington DC, but also lower than the $16.64 for Baltimore City (pushed up by very low incomes), the $10.16 for Los Angeles, and the $10.15 for Miami Dade.  Philadelphia, at $8.10, was nearly as high as NYC.

But if you are thinking the NYPD may not be such a bad deal for New Yorkers after all, think again.

Based on NYC budget documents, notably the “Full Agency Costs” table that Mayor Bloomberg introduced and Mayor DeBlasio has gradually gotten rid of, the Police Protection expenditures tabulated in the Census of Governments account for barely more than half of what NYC actually spent – just the wages and salaries of those working for the Department, and the purchases of supplies and services.  Pension contributions are excluded because New York City has its own pension fund, so the Census Bureau counts these as “internal transfers.”  And employee benefits are lumped in with most of the other agencies as General Expenditures Not Elsewhere Classified. In contrast, NYC’s sky high spending on Elementary and Secondary Education, as measured by the Census of Governments, included these costs, and matched up with other data sources.

In contrast, based on a review of budget documents for the Los Angeles Police Department it appears that the Census of Governments is including all the police spending in Los Angeles County.  If local governments make pension contributions to a pension plan run by the state or another government, those contributions are supposed to be included as spending in Census of Governments data.  In California, CALPERS provides pension services for most local police departments, and in any event the LAPD is actually organized as an independent government reporting to a board, like New York’s MTA.  Mass Transit expenditures in New York City, as measured by the Census of Governments, also include all costs.

The cost of pensions and other benefits are a huge share of NYPD expenditures, even compared with police departments in the rest of New York State, because of past retroactive pension increases, pension spiking, disability fraud, and benefits added on, none of which were paid for at the time. The big pension increase affecting the police took place in 2000, when an unfunded, never promised cost of living increase was retroactively added to all New York pensions, including for workers already retired.


Click to access cafr_19.pdf

On page 187 of the annual report for the New York State pension system, one can see that the 2000 increase approximately doubled pensions for the long retired.  Those hired since 1990 have received little benefit from the addition of the COLA, but the cost keeps rising, because all the money that went out of the pension fund immediately back in 2000 never earned a future return.  And NYC pension amounts would be far higher than those in the state system.  If the total dollars paid don’t seem that large, remember that these were the city and state workers who pillaged New York and left it in ruins in the 1970s, in the previous round of retroactive pension increases.  New York only recovered when high 1970s inflation reduced that burden, and the burden of debts from the Lindsay/Rockefeller years.

On page 194 of the same report, one finds that the taxpayer pension contribution rate for police and fire under the New York State pension system, which includes local government workers in the portion of New York State outside New York City, peaked in 1994 at less than 30.0%. The New York State pension system is one of the best funded in the country.  And yet 30.0% of payroll is what ought to be contributed every year to property fund a half-pay retirement, at any age, after just 20 years of work pension.  Which is what public safety workers get in New York.

The New York City pension system is one of the worst funded in the country, even though the same New York State legislature has set the rules for both the city and state pension systems for more than four decades.   A difference no one ever asks about, let alone explains.  With city pensions for police, officers, firefighters and teachers particularly underfunded and expensive, compared with those of other city workers.  Since the 1970s a large share of New York City’s public employees in these and other high-paid categories have lived in the suburbs, where legislators are happy to vote for pension increases NYC serfs will have to pay for – as are the perpetual incumbent legislators from the city itself.


Click to access cafr2019.pdf

On page 213 of the annual report of the NYC Police pension fund, one finds that taxpayer contributions to that fund peaked at 70.0% of wages and salaries in 2013, and were still at 64.1% of wages and salaries 2019.  What is worse, that is probably not enough, because assumptions are made to shift the high cost of NYC Police Services – much of it inherited from the past – to the further future.  Moreover, in addition to a half-pay pension after 20 years of work, if they don’t claim a disability pension, to be paid at 75 percent of the last year’s salary, retired NYC police officers get an additional $12,000 bonus paid out of the pension fund every year.

And yet one continually hears that NYC officers are underpaid, based on a low starting pay the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association managed to put in place in exchange for higher pay for officers who were cashing in and moving out.  In reality, as page 210 of the above document shows, the average pay of active members of the police pension plan was $109,744 in 2017 – more than the most I ever earned, and more than most later-born New Yorkers will ever get (after adjustment for inflation).  But their average cash pay isn’t the ripoff  – good for them, although those cashing in and moving out should be getting less and new hires should be getting more.

The ripoff is that the PBA, like the UFT which represents NYC teachers, is continually telling the less well off New Yorkers paying for this that they deserve bad service because they don’t pay enough, with no NYC politicians (those allegedly on our side of the bargaining table) daring to say otherwise. And that New York City has 2.2 times as many officers per 100,000 people as the U.S. average, as I showed here…

And that it is paying far more retired officers than those still on the job, and this had been true for decades.


Including pension contributions.  But still not including other benefits – including retiree health insurance, which is very expensive for those who retire before age 65 when Medicare picks up much of the bill.  One finds that NYPD expenditures fell from a peak of 15.87 per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income in FY 2009, when income was low due to the Great Recession, to $12.95 in FY 2017, a decrease of 18.4%, after an unprecedented influx of taxpaying young workers to NYC boosted income.   Spending by this measure had been $12.02 per $1,000 of personal income in FY 2000, the peak of another boom, and was below its FY 2017 level during all but two years from 1979 to 1995, a period when crime was much higher that it has been for the past decade.

The burden of NYPD expenditures is certainly going to be an even more crushing burden going forward, relative to the total income of city residents, as more wage earners and businesses move out of the cities, private sector pay continues to fall, and more of the actual cost of NYC police pension funds is admitted to.

I recently came across this video, which describes how car dealerships try to rip people off by providing what seems to be a fair up front cash price, but then adding all kinds of hidden costs and fees that show up later, even many years later.  See the 4:08 mark in this video, and follow with 14:35.


It occurs to me that New York’s public unions and politicians have done exactly the same thing to the people of New York City.  Same as the most dishonest businesses in one of the most the most disreputable industries.  At least at a car dealership, one is representing oneself.  When it comes to the cost and quality of NYC public services, as in the case of executive pay, those on both sides of the table are negotiating the best way to take more from the serfs in exchange for less – and hide, defer and lie about the cost.  In fact, one could say this is what has happened to the entire U.S. economy.  Watch the video, and understand why New York’s politicians have not allowed us to be “cash buyers” of public services.

We are still going to be paying for Police Protection in FY 2017 decades in the future.  In fact, we are still paying for the corrupt cops of the Buddy Boy era today – even those who are dead – because the extra money they took out of the pension funds, plus four decades of interest – still has to be put back.  And guess what, the cost of Police Protection in the 1970s and 1980s is still going up.

High NYC Police Protection spending might have been justified by high crime at one time, but NYC’s crime rate is no longer high, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data.  The city’s total index crime rate, at 2,043 crimes per 100,000 people in 2018, was well below the U.S. average of 2,568.  For violent crime alone, NYC remained above average, at 541 crimes per 100,000 people compared with the U.S. average of 369, but mostly because of the one crime for which NYC has always been exceptional – robbery. NYC had just 3.5 murders per 100,000 people compared with the U.S. average of 5.0, and just 33 rapes compared with the U.S. average of 42.6.

Like the United Federation of Teachers, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the rest of the police unions and management have been adept at shifting between “things are great, but only because of us, and we deserve more money” and “things are terrible, but its because of what the people of the city are like, and we need more money.”  So it may be that some of the low crime of 2018, and some of the crime increases Fox5 Newsseems determined to assert are taking place now, may be an artifact of the number of cases assigned to Sergeant McCann.   But unless one includes white-collar crime and Wall Street, I think it’s hard to make the case that NYC residents are now twice as criminal as the U.S. average to match up with our double-sized police force.

Meanwhile, crime in the rest of NY State is, and always has been, very low, as in the rest of the Northeast.

Local government Police Protection expenditures per $1,000 of county residents’ personal income in New York’s Downstate Suburbs, as a group, were above the U.S. average in FY 2017.  And New York’s suburban expenditures were very high compared with most other affluent suburban counties, where personal incomes are high and crime is low, including those in Northern New Jersey and Fairfield County. Essex County, Passaic County, and Union County were near or above the U.S. average as well, but these counties also include the poor cities of Newark, Paterson and Elizabeth.  None of the affluent suburban counties I chose for comparison come close to the level of spending in Nassau County.

As I showed in posts on Elementary and Secondary School expenditures, Upstate New York spending on that function is off-the-charts high, both per $1,000 of the personal income of Upstate residents, and per student. And it is paid for in large part with state aid money, from state taxes collected in large part in Downstate New York.  Police Protection, on the other hand, is something Upstaters pay for themselves, and local government spending in the Upstate Urban Counties is lower, on average, than the U.S. average and most of the counties containing other Rustbelt industrial cities that I chose for comparison.  And spending in New York’s rural counties per $1,000 of personal income is close to the level of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

I used the same scale for state government Police Protection expenditures, as for local government Police Protection expenditures, to show that in most states the increase or decreases as the state level don’t add or subtract very much per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income.  The increases in Massachusetts follow an era in which Boston mobster Whitey Bulger had compromised both the City of Boston police and the FBI, but not the state police.   The U.S. average for state police expenditures per $1,000 in personal income was $0.94 in FY 1997, $0.95 in FY 2007, and $0.93 in FY 2017.  For New York State, the averages were $0.56 in FY 1997, $0.84 in FY 2007, and $0.66 in FY 2017.  I’m not sure why spending on the state police increase, but I do recall state troopers being assigned to Upstate cities to stop a crime wave there.


U.S. local government Police Protection expenditures were higher in FY 2017 than in FY 1997, despite falling crime.  Spending per $1,000 of personal income was at $5.78 in FY 1997, $6.05 in FY 2007, and $5.89 in FY 2017.  For NYC, a big decrease from $11.62 in FY 1997 to $9.38 in FY 2007 was followed by a very small decrease to $9.24 in FY 2017.   If one were to add in pension expenditures, there would be little difference between the three years.

There were more significant decreases from FY 2007 to FY 2017 in the Downstate Suburbs, Upstate Urban Counties, Upstate Rural Counties and New Jersey, along with Cook County (Chicago), Harris County (Houston), Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Suffolk County (Boston).  Police Protection expenditures increased from FY 2007 to FY 2017 in Los Angeles County – but as discussed, in that county Police Protection expenditures appear to include pension contributions and other benefits.

In the cities of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, spending on police officers who are currently on the job has been slashed.   In a repeat of the NYC trend from the 1960s, after Mayor Wagner agreed to allow police officers to live outside NYC, most older White officers had moved out of these Texas cities to the suburbs by the year 2000. The State of Texas then granted these officers retroactively enriched pension benefits, over the objections of city leaders, leading to each of these cities nearly going broke.  Now starting police pay is so low they have trouble attracting new police officers.  Blue State, Red State, same thing.  It’s just a matter of timing.

Nationally, the violent crime rate fell 29.5% from 1999 to 2018, and the property crime rate fell 41.2%.  I wasn’t able to come up with comparable figures for NYC quickly, but assume that if anything the decreases are far greater than that here.  In the case of murder, NYC’s rate peaked at 30, and is down 91.7% from that level.  And while NYC is still relatively high in “your money or your life,” it isn’t the everyday risk it once was in most of the city.

Meanwhile, U.S. state and local government Police Protection expenditures were actually higher, per $1,000 of personal income, in FY 2017 than they had been in FY 1997 – even without including the rising pension and benefit costs in many places such as New York City.  NYC’s Police Protection expenditures, per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income in FY 2017, were at the lowest level since 1989 as measured by the Census Bureau, but might be at close to the highest level on record in pension contributions and benefits were included.   Even just by the Census Bureau’s measure, that is down just 13.2% from 1999, and down just 19.5% from the non-recession peak in 2005.

Prior to the Baby Boomer crime wage, New York City once had about 25,000 police officers.  That increased during the 1960s and early 1970s, but then plunged back to 25,000 after layoffs during the 1970s fiscal crisis.  The number of officers peaked at around 40,000 during the 1990s, after an additional local income tax surcharge under the “Safe Streets Safe City” program to fund them.  The current level is around 34,000, which is why the PBA asserts New Yorkers do not deserve police protection.

An alternative view is that like Stop and Frisk measures in high crime neighborhoods, the big increase in NYC police spending was a necessary and appropriate response to a public safety emergency, but one that should have been backed off rapidly as soon as the emergency was over.

Backed off because both the stopping and frisking of people, most of whom are not criminals, and the higher police expenditures of the stop an frisk era, were costly for the people of New York City, even if the cost of the latter was partially hidden and deferred to the future.



The wave of crime and wave of Police Protection expenditures created a wave of prisoners in local jails and state prisons, in New York and around the country.  This shows up in some data I was able to come across quickly.

In the U.S. as a whole, the number of federal and state prisoners per 100,000 adults age 18 and over soared from just 183 in 1978 to a peak of 670 in 2007, before falling back to 555 in 2018.  That is a 2007 to 2018 decrease of 17.2%.

For New York City’s jails, which house those awaiting trial and those convicted of minor crimes, the population was 20,776 in 1991, near the peak of the crime wave, but was just 9,580 in 2014, a decrease of more than half. According to press reports, the population fell to less than 9,000 in 2017, the least since 1982.

Rikers Island jail population on track to drop to lowest monthly average since 1982

With fewer criminals going on to New York State prisons, a significant number of them have closed in the past 15 years, over the objections of Upstate residents who see prisons as a source of jobs.

“In 2017, reported crime reached an all-time low since statewide reporting began in 1975. Preliminary data for 2018 shows that crime continued to decline for the sixth consecutive year and will mark yet another historic low. This has cemented New York’s position as the safest large state in the nation.”

Debate heats up again about local prisons: Helming says closing more isn’t right

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed Executive Budget includes a proposal that would allow him to close additional state correctional facilities with only 90 days notice.  Since taking office, the Governor has closed 17 correctional facilities.

Others had been closed before Andrew Cuomo took office.  This followed a prison building boom during the administration of his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, during the Baby Boomer crime wave.

NYS Prison Budget Climbs, Despite Fewer Inmates

New York’s prison boom got underway in the 1980s when the state built 30 new correctional facilities. Prevailing high crime – mostly drug-fueled – and harsh statutory sentencing ranges quickly filled them; the inmate population swelled from 30,000 in 1983 to 64,000 by 1993. This occurred mostly under Gov. Mario Cuomo, who some say, felt compelled to be tough on crime and big on prisons to fend off fierce criticism of his opposition to the death penalty.

After peaking at more than 70,000, the New York State prison population fell to 51,000 in 2017.

So what about spending on Corrections?

According to Government Finances data from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. state and local government Corrections expenditures hit a non-recession peak (recessions reduce personal income) of $5.70 per $1,000 of personal income in FY 1999, and were still at $5.67 per $1,000 of personal income in FY 2007, before falling to just $4.67 per $1,000 of personal income in FY 2017, down 18.1% from the peak.

Since I assigned the entirety of the State of New York police expenditures to the portion of New York State outside New York City, it only seems fair for to assign two-thirds of State of New York prison expenditures to NYC, since based on what I could come up with the city accounts for two-thirds of the state’s prisoners.  Leaving aside the deep early 1990s recession, NYC state and local government Corrections expenditures were still at $8.62 per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income in FY 1994, as Mayor Giuliani took office, but were down to $5.58 per $1,000 of personal income in FY 2017, a decrease of 35.3%. Perhaps not as great a decrease as the decrease in crime and the number of prisoners, but more of a decrease than for the NYPD.

While most Police Protection expenditures are at the local government level, a majority of Corrections expenditures are at the state government level.  In general, those awaiting trial and those convicted of minor offenses are housed in county jails, while those convicted of serious offenses are housed in state prisons. In FY 2017 U.S. state governments spent $2.90 per $1,000 of personal income on Corrections, while U.S. local governments spent $1.77.

On the other hand, the State of New York spent $2.53 per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income, while local governments in the state spent an average of $2.65.  More at the local level than at the state level, because of the high level of local government Corrections expenditures in New York City, at $3.05 per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income.  In contrast, in Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, and Massachusetts there are no local government Corrections expenditures.  All prisoners are under custody of the state government.

Adding it up, New York State’s state and local government Corrections expenditures equaled $5.18 per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income, 10.9% above the U.S. average of $4.67 and ranked 18th.  If they had been separate states, the $6.56 for New York City would have ranked fifth behind New Mexico ($8.73), Alaska ($7.68), Delaware ($6.73), and Oregon ($6.53). And the $3.90 for the rest of New York State would have ranked 36th, about the same as Ohio ($3.87) and Washington State ($3.98).

Corrections spending varies in the rest of the Northeast. Pennsylvania is higher than New York at $5.45, and Vermont is about average at $4.68, but New Jersey ($3.54), Connecticut ($2.41), Massachusetts ($2.03), New Hampshire ($2.87), Maine ($4.19) and Rhode Island ($4.00) are below average.  High tax Illinois, at just $3.00 per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income, is once again below the U.S. average in spending, while low tax Texas, at $4.70, approximately matches the average.  California spent $6.17 per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income on state and local government Corrections.  Prison guards are well paid in that state, and advocates for better conditions for prisoners have a long record of success in court.

For local government Corrections alone, the $3.05 per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income spent by the City of New York in FY 2017 compared with $1.74 for the Downstate Suburbs, $2.76 for the Upstate Urban Counties, and $2.95 for the rural and small city counties in the Rest of New York State. Quite a few Upstate counties spent a higher share of their residents’ income on Corrections than New York City did, as measured by the Census of Governments.

But if you think NYC’s jailers are giving other New Yorkers a break, remember that taxpayer contributions to their pensions and their other benefits are not included in these numbers.  The Census Bureau makes the former disappear, except from a separate dataset on the pension funds themselves, and NYC shifts the latter to General Expenditures Not Elsewhere Classified.

As is the case for the NYPD, according to New York City budget documents, little more than half of what the Department of Corrections actually costs is included in the Census Bureau’s NYC Corrections expenditures.  Unlike the case for NYC teachers, police officers, and firefighters, the corrections officers do not have a separate pension fund just for themselves, but are instead included in NYCERS, the pension fund for other City of New York (and New York City Transit) employees. So I can’t use pension fund data to add those contributions back in.

Even based on local government Corrections expenditures per $1,000 of area residents as measured by the Census Bureau, the $3.05 spent in New York City was not only higher than the U.S. average of $1.77, but also higher than most of the counties containing the country’s largest and other prominent cities.  Philadelphia ($4.50) and Multnomah County (Portland, Oregon $3.67) were exceptions.  One might have expected local government Corrections expenditures to be low in the “safest big city in the country.”

Perhaps in other cities the court system gets the accused to and through trial, and on to state prison or released, faster than New York’s notoriously slow justice system.

And there are fewer instances of “sentenced to time served” or recipient of a lawsuit judgment for unlawful imprisonment than there are here in New York.

For NYC Judgment and Claims costs also end up in General Expenditures NEC, rather than being assigned to particular agencies.  The first modification to the “Full Agency Costs” table Mayor DeBlasio made was to delete Judgment and Claims as a column.  Perhaps because the first thing he wanted to do is enter into a huge settlement with those who had sued the city as a result of being stopped and frisked, and he didn’t want that cost to be shown in a table relative to other budget priorities.  I’ll bet he thought no one noticed.   The press let him get away with it, so he kept deleting more each year until the whole table was gone.

New York’s Downstate Suburb counties spent more on average on local government Corrections, per $1,000 of their residents’ relatively high personal incomes, than most of the other affluent suburban counties I chose for comparison.  The exceptions are those in California, and Essex County (Newark) and Passaic County (Paterson) in New Jersey.   Given the high incomes and low crime rates of New York’s Downstate Suburbs, coming in a tick below the U.S. average is not an achievement.

Local government Corrections expenditures, per $1,000 of personal income, were above the U.S. average in the Upstate Urban Counties, at $2.47 compared with $1.77.   Most other “Rustbelt” urban counties chosen for comparison were below the U.S. average. The exceptions were Wayne County (Detroit) at $3.04, St. Louis City at $3.91, and Milwaukee County at $3.71.

Comparing Census of Governments years, U.S. state government Corrections expenditures per $1,000 of personal income were 24.2% lower in FY 2017 than they had been in FY 1997.  The decrease was 29.3% for New York State, 30.1% for New Jersey, 42.4% for Connecticut, and 25.3% for Massachusetts, but just 4.3% for Pennsylvania.  In California, state Corrections expenditures per $1,000 of personal income decreased by 19.2%.

And at the local government level, U.S. Corrections expenditures per $1,000 of personal income were just 2.2% lower in FY 2017 than they had been in FY 1997, having been higher in FY 2007.  New York City’s expenditures fell 33.8% from FY 1997 to FY 2017 by this measure, with the Downstate Suburbs down 16.9%, but there were increases of 2.3% in the Upstate Urban Counties and 43.2% in the Upstate Rural Counties. The latter increase took place from FY 1997 to FY 2007.  Part of this is capital expenditures under a county jail modernization program.  The state is paying some of the cost for new jails Upstate.

But I haven’t heard anything about state funding for Mayor DeBlasio’s excessively costly new jails, and I don’t expect to.   The proposed cost of those facilities is vastly higher than anything that could possibly be justified.  Perhaps it was an attempt to get on a gravy train that has already rolled through elsewhere in New York State.

Perhaps the better news for New Yorkers is that at least according to Census Bureau data, New York City’s state and local government Corrections expenditures per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income were 86.6% above the U.S. average in FY 1989, but just 19.5% above average in FY 2017 (up from just 7.4% above average in FY 2012, however).  The Rest of New York State was 16.5% below average in FY 1999, but 2.9% above average in FY 2017.

Meanwhile, NYC Police Protection expenditures were still 45.2% above the U.S. average per $1,000 of personal income in FY 2017, even with pension and benefit expenditures excluded.  That is down from a peak of 79.0% above the U.S. average in FY 2002.



New York City residents might already be feeling a little bit burned, but let’s move on to Fire Protection expenditures.  Like the infrastructure and amenity expenditures that will be the subject of the following three posts, professional fire protection is something that some places have, and other places don’t. Many places have volunteer fire departments.  According to the National Fire Protection Association…

There were about 745,000 volunteer firefighters, and 354,800 professional firefighters, in the United States in 2018.  But most places with more than 50,000 people were protected either by all professional firefighters, or by mostly professional firefighters.  Whereas volunteers predominated in places with fewer than 10,000 people.  So it is hard to understand if the New York City Fire Department is expensive or cheap based on the national average, which includes all those places where all or most firefighters are volunteers.

That said, New York City Fire Protection expenditures totaled $3.49 per $1,000 of New York City residents’ personal income in FY 2017, only modestly above the U.S. average of $2.99 and the rest of the state at $2.67. Volunteer and mostly volunteer fire departments are common elsewhere in New York State.  That is also the case for New Jersey, where just $1.80 was spent on Fire Protection per $1,000 of personal income, and Pennsylvania, where $1.24 was spent.  I’m not sure about Connecticut, also below average at $2.43, and Massachusetts, below average as well at $2.77.  High tax Vermont ($2.21) and Maine ($2.68) were below the U.S. average in Fire Protection expenditures per $1,000 of state residents’ personal income, while low tax New Hampshire was above average at $3.28.

Also on the high side one finds Rhode Island at $6.06, double the U.S. average, Florida, at $4.01, Illinois, at $3.85, Ohio, $3.76, and California ($3.57), Oregon ($3.96) and Washington ($3.76).  Rhode Island also had high police expenditures, and has underfunded pensions for both police and firefighters, leading to severe fiscal distress.

Within New York State, New York City, with $3.49 in Fire Protection expenditures per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income, was above the averages for the Downstate Suburbs at $2.35, the Upstate Urban Counties at $3.11 and the rural and small city counties in the Rest of New York State at $2.80. Not surprising given that volunteer fire departments are common in the rest of the state.  Several Upstate New York counties had higher Fire Protection expenditures per $1,000 of county residents’ personal income than New York City did, even so.

There are other values to Fire Protection Expenditures that are not measured here.  Volunteer fire departments are social clubs and community institutions as well as protection organizations, while professional fire departments reputedly lead to lower homeowner insurance rates.  That many explain the willingness of Upstate towns to pay more in taxes to fund these organizations.  I do also recall, however, a push for the addition of state aid for fire departments in the portion of the state outside New York City during the Pataki Administration, though I haven’t been able to find the evidence on the internet.

The idea of cutting costs by replacing professional firefighters with more volunteers evidently got some pushback in New York.


Click to access Myth-of-the-free-fire-service-2015.pdf

NYSPFFA is not aware of a single study that has measured the total spending of volunteer fire departments, either nationwide or in New York State. Without a baseline measure of what volunteer fire departments currently spend, there is no way to reliably measure the cost savings that might result from replacing professional firefighters with volunteers. Thus any conclusions or data drawn from existing studies that claim to measure such cost savings have to be viewed with considerable skepticism…

The municipal government structure that most professional firefighters operate under provides for a level of financial oversight and segregation that does not exist with most volunteer departments. As a result, the potential for financial problems is much larger for volunteer departments…Multiple audits identified instances where fire company money was stolen, misappropriated or unaccounted for and in which the results of the audit were turned over to law enforcement for follow-up.

An issue identified by the Comptroller’s Office in many of the audits was a failure to file required financial reports. As noted in Section II of this report, as of April 15, 2015 nearly 70 of the 885 fire districts in New York State had not filed the required annual financial reports for 2013 with the State Comptroller. A review of the Comptroller’s audits reveals multiple instances where financial reports weren’t filed for a decade or more.

Perhaps the counties containing other larger and prominent cities, which tend to also have professional fire departments, provide a better comparison with NYC.  And the data shows NYC spends more than some, but less than others.  Compared with $3.49 spent on Fire Protection in NYC, per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income, high spending counties include low income Baltimore City at $7.45, the District of Columbia at $5.13, Miami-Dade County at $4.75, Cook County (Chicago) at $4.19, and Suffolk County (Boston) at $3.91.  Low spending counties include Denver ($2.42), Mecklenburg (Charlotte — $2.34), Harris (Houston) $2.21, and King (Seattle — $1.68).

But then there is that pesky question of what is and is not being included, in New York City and elsewhere.

A comparison with NYC budget documents shows the Census of Governments is only including less than half of what the New York City Fire Department actually costs, a smaller share than for the NYPD or Department of Corrections, with pension contributions probably not showing up at all and other benefits presumably lumped in with other agencies in General Expenditures Not Elsewhere Classified.

Even more Fire Department spending is on the retiree side because according to annual report of the NYC firefighters pension fund,


Click to access fire-pension-fund-cafr.pdf

On page 162, in FY 2018 and FY 2019 taxpayer contributions to the NYC firefighter pension fund exceeded the total wages and salaries of firefighters still on the job.  That’s a taxpayer pension contribution at more than 100 percent of payroll. Recall that I believe a half pay after 20 years pension, with no games and schemes and no retroactive increases, should cost about 30.0% of payroll per year.

And the number of firefighters collection pension benefits is significantly higher than the number still working.  And even by the false measures used by the City Actuary, that pension fund is only about half funded – after city taxpayers paid 100 percent of the actuarially required contribution every year for decades, and despite another stock market bubble that had yet to start deflating in 2019. The only good news is that there are fewer firefighters, and retired firefighters, than there are police officers and teachers, and retired police officers and teachers.  Otherwise NYC would be bankrupt already.

Including taxpayer pension contributions, but not other benefits, the New York City’s Fire Protection expenditures in FY 2017, at $5.29, were not much different than in FY 2007, at $5.41, or FY 1987 at $5.97, or FY 1977, at $5.60.  But is the need for Fire Protection services as great?

Nationally, fire department calls for fires fell from 1,315 per 100,000 people in 1980 to 403 in 2018.  False alarms, unfortunately, increased, but the combination of the two decreased. One would expect the decrease for New York City would be even greater, thanks to a real estate boom that has seen dangerous old wiring replaced and new buildings built to higher standards than the average for the rest of the country.  Inside the “fire district,” all the boroughs other than Staten Island, all attached buildings have been required to be at least semi-fireproof since 1920, and all electric wiring has to be encased in galvanized metal.  No plastic wires or seven story wood-frame apartment buildings here.

Not much brush for brushfires, or forests for forest fires, either.


Being a firefighter these days doesn’t involve a lot of fighting fire.  Rapid improvements in fire safety have caused a dramatic drop in the number of blazes, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Buildings are constructed with fire-resistant materials; clothing and curtains are made of flame-retardant fabrics; and municipal laws mandate sprinkler systems and smoke detectors. The striking results: On highways, vehicle fires declined 64 percent from 1980 to 2013. Building fires fell 54 percent during that time. When they break out, sprinkler systems almost always extinguish the flames before firefighters can turn on a hose.

But oddly, as the number of fires has dropped, the ranks of firefighters have continued to grow — significantly. There are half as many fires as there were 30 years ago, but about 50 percent more people are paid to fight them.

This article recommended an increase in volunteer firefighters, and it came out in the same year that the New York State Professional Firefighters Association issued the report arguing against it.

More and more fighters are spending most of their time responding to medical emergencies — along with an ambulance or two, and the police. That is certainly true here in Brooklyn, where a health emergency for an aging relative brought so many first responders they barely fit in the house.  For much of their day, firefighters are looking for something to do.  But people don’t want fewer of them, because they want them to be there when needed.

A late and ill thought out proposal to merge the Fire Department and Building Department, so firefighters could also be trained to make simple inspections between fires, at the very end of Mayor Giuliani’s administration was scotched by the real estate industry, which feared that firefighters might start actually enforcing all the rules – including some zoning rules that should not still be on the books at all.  Somehow, however, either NYC firefighters will have to do other work or the city will not be able to afford them.

Thanks to high average incomes and mostly volunteer firefighters, Fire Protection expenditures are not unusually high in New York’s Downstate Suburbs.   The NYSPFA, however, apparently believes they are higher than they should be.

Not only are volunteer departments not free, but they are not necessarily a better bargain for taxpayers than departments with professional staff. As part of the ‘Fire Alarm’ series of articles published by Newsday the cost of fire protection in the Village of Garden City, one of only two fire departments on Long Island to have professional firefighters to augment volunteers, was compared to the cost of fire protection elsewhere on Long Island.

The Newsday analysis found that Garden City’s $5.4 million for fire services (including pensions and other benefits) was exceeded by two volunteer departments on Long Island (Hicksville and Coram). Furthermore, seven volunteer departments were found to cost more than Garden City on a per call basis and twenty volunteer departments cost more than Garden City on a per resident protected basis.

Compared with the U.S. average of $2.99 spent per $1,000 of personal income, and the Downstate Suburb average of $2.35, Nassau County fire departments spent $1.72, and Suffolk County fire departments spent $2.85. Westchester County, which includes the City of Yonkers and its professional fire department, spent $2.63.

The Upstate Urban Counties are not only below the U.S. average but also below many counties containing mid-sized Rustbelt industrial cities and adjacent industrial suburbs.   The most economically successful of these, however, is Hennepin County (Minneapolis), where local governments spent just $1.19 per $1,000 of county residents’ personal income on Fire Protection.   The figure for Monroe County (Rochester NY), which once also had a strong manufacturing sector based on precision instruments, was $2.76.

As measured by the Census Bureau at least, U.S. Fire Protection expenditures increased from $2.74 per $1,000 of personal income in FY 1997 to $3.06 in FY 2007, before falling to $2.99 in FY 2017.  NYC Fire Protection expenditures fell from $4.26 in FY 1997, a year when many fire trucks were apparently purchased, to $3.67 in FY 2007 and $3.49 in FY 2017, as measured by the Census of Governments. Including pension contributions shows NYC Fire Protection expenditures were at about the same level per $1,000 of city residents’ personal income during all three years, with FY 2007 a little higher than the other two.  But that was with the city’s population and personal income rising rapidly.

It is hard to understand what has been going on in the fiscally troubled state of Illinois, where Fire Protection expenditures increased from $2.69 per $1,000 of personal income in FY 1997 to $3.85 in FY 2017.  Unless pension contributions and other benefits for the retired, the cost of which have been soaring there, are being included in the data.

In the Downstate Suburbs, Fire Protection expenditures fell slightly per $1,000 of area residents’ personal income from FY 1997 to FY 2007, and from FY 2007 to FY 2017.  There were decreases in Upstate New York as well from FY 1997 to FY 2007, but not from FY 2007 to FY 2017.  In fact, the Upstate Urban Counties spent $3.11 per $1,000 of personal income on Fire Protection in FY 2017, almost exactly the same as the $3.10 in FY 1997. Personal income and population growth, however, have been weak Upstate.

Fire Protection expenditures per $1,000 of county residents’ personal income continued to rise in Cook County (Chicago) over 20 years, but the counties containing most of nation’s largest cities, and cities at the center of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, saw failing expenditures, especially after FY 2007.  IN Los Angeles County, the decrease was from $4.75 per $1,000 of personal income in FY 2007 to $3.58 in FY 2017 – about the same as New York City, in a much more fire-prone area.


The next post in the series will be on transportation infrastructure.