I recently read an article about the the controversy over “defunding” the Portland, Oregon police department.
Minneapolis has a measure on the ballot to eliminate its police department and replace it with something else that would include fewer police officers.
The debate over police funding is strictly tribalist, culture war, and fact free. To the extent that the actual current level of police staffing is discussed at all, the police say they have staffing shortages, and the anti-police say there are too many police, but no one provides any numbers compared with other places and other times. I happen to have those numbers – and comparable numbers for the U.S. average, New York City and other places– sitting on my computer and posted on my blog. Does anybody care?
If so, read on.
The data I have is not for the Minneapolis police department and the Portland police department per se. Unlike New York City, most places have multiple overlapping units of local government, each with their own police.
At the very least, Portland, Oregon is also served by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
And Minneapolis, Minnesota is also served by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.
There may be other police departments serving those cities as well. In parts of New York State, you can have county police overlapping with township police and incorporated village police. The only way to provide a fair comparison with the City of New York (which is why I compile this data to begin with) is to add up all the local governments within a county, for a given government function, and see what you get.
(Even that isn’t perfect, as there are government agencies serving more than one county — notably in mass transit — and there are overlapping state government services – including state police – as well).
What I can say is that in March 2017, the United States had 198 local government police officers (those with the power of arrest) per 100,000 people. Hennepin County, including Minneapolis, was below average at 179. Multnomah County, including Portland, Oregon, was further below average at just 141.
How about back in March, 1997? At that time the United States had 200 police officers per 100,000 residents. Hennepin County, including Minneapolis, was below average at 184, but slightly higher than in 2017. Multnomah County, including Portland, Oregon, however, was barely below average at 192, and much higher than 20 years later.
So it seems that before George Floyd, before Black Lives Matter, before “defund the police,” before “abolish the police,” the number of officers per 100,000 residents in Portland and surrounding communities had already been reduced by 26.6%.
Why? Falling crime is one possible explanation. A really rich retroactive pension increase for public employees cashing in and moving out is another.
That sort of thing happened in many public union-dominated states. Pension under-funding to cut taxes happened at the same time in many low-tax “red states.” Portland had that too – it never bothered pre-funding police pensions to begin with.
So in Portland, as in many places (Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth among others), the police were de-funded by the soaring cost of the retired police. In many other places public services other than the police were de-funded by the soaring cost of retired police instead.
But at no time was the level of police staffing in Portland and Minneapolis excessive compared with the U.S. average or most other counties containing major cities.
Meanwhile, what about New York?
In March 2017, when the number of local government police officers per 100,000 people was 198 for the United States, 179 for Hennepin County, including Minneapolis, and 141 for Multnomah County, including Portland, Oregon, it was reported at 586 per 100,000 residents for New York City, 2.8 times the U.S. average. As I discussed here…
Based on the smaller number of participants in the New York City Police Pension Fund that figure may be slightly exaggerated by including NYPD employees who are not officers with power of arrest. Even based on the lower pension fund member numbers, however, the NYPD staffing levels were still 2.2 times the national average and higher than any other major urban county other than Washington DC, Miami-Dade and St. Louis.
Minneapolis and Portland are more like King County (Seattle) than NYC. And I doubt they have as many retired officers either, since I’m not sure anyplace has NYC’s 20 and out pension.
Shouldn’t the entire debate about “defunding” – a politically disastrous, chest thumping word that implied eliminating police protection entirely – be radically different here than it is there? Look at the cost and staffing levels for many, many government functions, in fact, and the overall level of state and local government taxes, and there really is no place like New York. And that gap keeps getting bigger. Shouldn’t NYC police officials – and union leaders – be too embarrassed about being so off the charts that they stop claiming they are understaffed and demanding more?
Even internal affairs.
Along with, they say, the courts, the DAs, the public defenders, the jails. The schools. Home health care. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Of course, there are people who complain about taxes in places where, compared with New York City at least, they have no business complaining. New Jersey, for example.
Some folks apparently don’t adjust for the average income in different places. If they did, they’d realize NJ isn’t anywhere close to NYC.
It would appear that one could take a random group of Americans and drop them in Portland, or Minneapolis, or Texas, or New Jersey, or New York, and they would be conned into thinking the same things — despite radically different situations that no one tells them about.