Hiring More Cops Is Not the Answer

Public officials need to consider a wider array of crime-fighting options.

As California’s toughest cities struggle with violent crime, we are hearing a familiar refrain: “Hire more police officers.” While more cops may be the right answer in some places, public officials need to consider a wider array of crime-fighting options and examine ways to stretch their existing budgets.

William Bratton, the former Los Angeles and New York chief, now heads to Oakland to help address a gang-driven crime wave. Bratton already has bemoaned the relatively small size of that city’s police force and the court-mandated constraints placed on the Oakland Police Department because of a police-brutality scandal. As a consultant, he will be focused on using a new crime-fighting tool that helps police pinpoint areas to focus their resources.

That kind of high-tech approach sounds more promising than the typical scare campaign, designed to help loosen residents’ grip on their wallets. For instance, during a City Council meeting in San Bernardino late November, city attorney Jim Penman said that in the light of pending bankruptcy and police layoffs that residents need to “lock their doors and load their guns”—a bit ironic given California officials' stepped-up efforts to limit gun ownership.

The city manager in Stockton warned in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown that the city would “slip into municipal chaos” by then-proposed pension cuts driven by the city’s bankruptcy. He warned of a “mass exodus” of police officers. The city ultimately decided to stiff the bondholders who issued the city pension-obligation bonds the last time it couldn’t make ends meet rather than shave some of the most generous benefits in the country.

In 2010, Stockton’s police union gained nationwide attention for its graphic billboard signs—with a body count and images of crime-scene tape—welcoming people to “The 2nd Most Dangerous City in California” and demanding the city “Stop Laying Off Cops!” The Stockton Record reported that despite police spending reductions, the city’s violent crime had dropped by 14.3 percent from the previous year, although it’s up again.

Ironically, the same officials who argue that cutting police budgets will lead to mayhem also advocate pension policies that sap municipal budgets so severely that these cities have little choice but to slash the number of working police officers so they can pay for the retirees.

Reforming pensions, spending less money on gadgets (the state’s alcohol-control cops just spend $70,000 for gas masks and bulletproof helmets, according to the Sacramento Bee) and outsourcing services seems better than always hitting up taxpayers for more loot. But don’t expect to hear those discussions any time soon.

It would also be nice for police officials to show some humility and admit that there’s far more to stopping crime than giving them more money. Last May, the Washington, D.C., City Council had a debate over police staffing and faced similar warnings of a coming bloodbath. A Washington Post columnist talked to a prominent criminologist who had reviewed 27 studies that evaluated the possible link between police staffing and crime rates. “Almost half of the studies found no relationship between the two,” wrote Mike DeBonis. “Of the remainder, more found that crime increased as police levels rose.”

Criminologists argue that everything from cultural values to the average age of the population to various policing strategies have much to do with crime rates. A cursory look at the FBI data shows no obvious correlation between police staffing levels and crime rates.

Even a recent University of California, Berkeley study that found a strong correlation between police staffing and crime reduction noted that some cities are “under-policed” while others are “over-policed.” Sure, anarchic Oakland probably needs a bigger police presence, but the same can’t be said for placid Irvine.

In cities where additional police spending may be a good value, one should wonder whether spending $484,000 in total compensation to a single, retiring police officer, as Bloomberg recently reported, is an effective use of resources. That package is extreme, but agencies have ramped up compensation dramatically over the past decade thus reducing the money they have available for actual crime-fighting.

In Denver, the police union recently rented 30 billboards across the city declaring, “Gangs or Cops? Which Would You Rather Have on Your Streets?” This is part of its effort to derail modifications to Rule 12—a disciplinary process that routinely results in the overturning of suspensions of ill-behaving officers. If I lived in Denver, I wouldn’t want to bolster staff levels by keeping bad cops on the force.

Remember that many of Oakland’s policing problems stem from a terrible scandal within the department. Maybe the public needs more accountable and professional police forces and not just more officers toting expensive gadgets.

The best crime-fighting tool remains a citizenry that behaves itself, and most people behave without having (or wanting) an officer on every corner. With crime rates at 40-year lows, this is the ideal time to take a calm and reasoned look at crime-fighting strategies.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • iggy||

    I've noticed a recent tendency for rich white liberals to be in favor of having more cops in neighbor hoods filled with poor black people. When liberals say 'we need more cops in our neighborhoods' what they actually mean is 'your neighborhoods (especially if you're black).'

  • Brett L||

    Its not recent. The proles always need more supervision. The Vanguard is above the rules, anyhow.

  • Brubaker||

    Logic dictates placing more cops where there is more crime. It's not a racial issue.

  • ||

    Compare and constrast rich white liberals' reactions to crime waves that affect poor black neighbourhoods, like gang shootings, to rich white liberals' reactions to crime waves that affect rich white neighbourhoods, like school shootings.

    Extra credit will be given for not vomiting on your keyboards.

  • sloopyinca||

    Sloopy on why hiring more cops is not the answer: because they tend to make people less safe and free, abuse their authority usually without consequence and are a drain on the public treasury with their bloated salaries and pension plans they are able to negotiate with the politicians whose campaigns they fund.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Maybe the problem is not that we need more cops and prisons, but that we need fewer laws.

  • ||

    Maybe? Assuredly.

  • sarcasmic||

    Fewer laws? Do you know how much work and good intentions go into making the laws that we have? You want to waste all that time and effort by repealing laws? What kind of inconsiderate piece of shit are you? Laws are not to be repealed. They may be modified, but repeal is simply not an option. To do so is to say that legislators are imperfect beings and that force is not the solution to every problem. That's heresy!

  • Hollywood||

    But those laws were passed with the best of intentions, you unfeeling libertarian asshole!

    /sarc

  • Mongo||

    Fewer laws mean fewer coppers. A small, well-trained (and better paid) PD force.

  • sarcasmic||

    Heresy! The more laws the better! When there are so many laws that everyone is a criminal, the police have the power to arrest anyone that they don't like! Rule of Man, baby!
    In a system with few laws, the cops would have to wait for the dirtbag (and everyone is a dirtbag) to actually commit a crime against an actual victim. Can't have that.

  • Hollywood||

    Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.

    / Lavrentiy Beria

  • favoritecosplay||

    HaHA! I have already seen the great thing!!!

  • Training Semarang||

    thanks for these info. visit our web on Training Center Semarang.
    please comment to improvement.

    success for you all.

    DUTRIA BAYU ADI

  • gaoxiaen||

    The cops are criminals with badges and also the biggest gang. The fewer of these scumbags, the better.

  • ||

    People that want to visit me call first; under no circumstances do I open my heavy metal door unless the person has a government issued ID which is inserted into a slot. A lady friend opened the door for a little girl asking for water to fill her cup; three thugs behind quickly rushed in, robbed and savaged her. She no longer has a door to open since she lives in a mental institution.

  • shake||

    I know someone who just entered police academy. He told me they all get brand new iPads. He was excited. They are used for writing down notes in class. They have to pay for their own bullet proof vests however.

  • شات عراقنا||

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement