How Much Do the Biggest Counties in the U.S. Spend on Police?
Do you think your county & local governments spend too much on law enforcement?
by Causes | 7.3.20
What’s the story?
- The nationwide debate over “defunding the police” ― which can mean either abolishing the police entirely or reducing law enforcement spending & reallocating it to social services ― is continuing into the summer. To help inform the debate, here’s a look at spending on law enforcement by the largest American counties.
How much do U.S. counties spend on law enforcement?
- In 2017, state & local governments spent a total of $193 billion on law enforcement & corrections according to Census Bureau data. About two-thirds of that total ― or $129 billion ― was spent by local governments, which amounted to 9.2% of local government spending.
- This chart from USAFacts compares law enforcement spending to other significant categories of local government spending, such as education (48.6%), transportation (7.7%), and debt & pensions (7.6%):
- When local government spending from 2017 is combined from all localities across the country, spending on law enforcement & corrections amounted to $397 per capita.
- This table from USAFacts shows that local government per capita spending on education was five times more than spending on law enforcement & corrections:
- The most populous counties tended to spend larger amounts per capita on law enforcement & corrections compared to their smaller peers.
- The 25 most populous counties (counting all of New York City’s five boroughs as a single county) spent on average $573 per capita on law enforcement & corrections. In the next 303 most populous counties, all of which have at least 200,000 residents, law enforcement spending was $388 per capita. This interactive USAFacts chart allows you to compare local government spending by the 25 most populous counties:
- The highest spending per capita among the 25 largest counties was in New York City’s five boroughs, which spent $898 per capita. Among all counties with over 200,000 people, only two spent more on law enforcement per capita: Washington, D.C. ($1,136 per capita) & Nassau County, New York ($949 per capita).
- This interactive USAFacts chart allows you to compare per capita spending on law enforcement among the counties with more than 200,000 residents based on county population, nonwhite share of population, median age of population, median income, and poverty rate:
- In terms of overall spending per capita, the 25 most populous counties spent more on average than the 303 other counties with populations exceeding 200,000 residents. Excluding payments on debt & pensions, the 25 most populous counties spent an average of $5,975 per person whereas the other 303 counties spent an average of $3,974 per person.
- This interactive chart from USAFacts allows you to compare overall spending per capita among counties with more than 200,000 residents based on county population, nonwhite share of population, median age of population, median income, and poverty rate:
- USAFacts notes that while there tends to be a correlation between law enforcement spending and population, there are examples of the contrary. For instance, Bexar County, Texas ― the home of San Antonio & nearly 2 million residents ― spent $298 per capita on law enforcement & $3,906 per capita overall; while the city of St. Louis, which functions as its own county and has a population of 308,000 residents, spent $795 per capita on law enforcement & $6,764 per capita overall. And while Washington, D.C. spent $1,136 per capita on law enforcement, the most in the country, it also spent the most overall per capita at $23,555 on its population of 696,000 residents in 2017.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / kali9)
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