As the City Council awaits the Mayor's executive budget for fiscal year 2000, indications are that the number of police officers on the city payroll will likely be a key issue during the budget adoption process. This article provides an overview of the Mayor's and Council's respective police hiring plans, as well as an update of an IBO police staffing analysis of the relationship between police staffing levels and crime reduction in major U.S. cities.
Competing Hiring Plans
In his preliminary budget, the Mayor proposed to accelerate the hiring of 1,589 additional police officers by six months, from July 1, 2000 to January 1, 2000, at a cost of $32 million. While the city had previously planned to hire only enough new officers to replace those lost through attrition, the Mayor's proposal would boost police staffing to 40,210 by the end of fiscal year 2000 instead of the currently projected level of 38,621. In January, the Mayor indicated that providing funds to allow for accelerated hiring in 2000 represents "resources necessary to continue the city's historic reductions in crime." The City Council, however, recently announced its opposition to the accelerated hiring plan. In its Fiscal 2000 Preliminary Budget Response, the Council proposed that the 1,589 recruits be hired as previously planned on July 1, 2000. Of the $32 million in city funds that would be freed up as a result of adhering to the original hiring plan, the Council proposed redirecting $8 million towards expanding civilianization efforts within the NYPD. The Council advocates this move as a first step towards returning 500 police officers-that the Council contends are now performing duties that could be carried out by civilians-to direct law enforcement activities. In addition, the Council proposed allocating another $10 million for initiatives aimed at improving the NYPD's training program, recruitment efforts, and internal policing procedures.
Police Staffing Levels in NYC and Other Large U.S. Cities
As reported in IBO's Analysis of the Mayor's Preliminary Budget for 2000, police staffing in New York City has grown dramatically in the 1990s. The current fiscal year will end on June 30th with 38,621 officers-or about 6,600 (21 percent) more than in 1990. A comparison of per capita police staffing in large U.S. cities shows New York City to have the highest ratio of police officers to residents at about 52 per 10,000. Accelerated hiring would change this ratio to 54 officers per 10,000 residents. However, with or without accelerated hiring, the staffing level in New York City remains higher than in any of the nation's other largest cities-which average 32 officers per 10,000 residents.
Crime Reduction and Police Staffing
New York City's decision in 1990 to embark on a significant expansion in police staffing was followed by a dramatic 50 percent decline in serious crime, a drop larger in both absolute and percentage terms than occurred in any of the nation's top 25 largest cities. While it is reasonable to assume that the growth in size of New York City's police force in the 1990s played a significant role in the decline in crime, IBO's review of data from across the country raises questions as to the precise relationship between police staffing levels and crime reduction.
IBO found that while many American cities have also opted to increase per capita police staffing in recent years, some other major cities have not. San Diego, Dallas, El Paso and Seattle, for example, enjoyed significant declines in crime between 1990 and 1997 with much smaller increases-in some cases even decreases-in per capita police staffing.
Most notable in this regard is the city of San Diego. Now America's sixth largest city, San Diego enjoyed a 45 percent drop in serious crime between 1990 and 1997-a decline accomplished with virtually no change in per capita police staffing as compared to New York City's 18 percent build-up over the same period. Similarly, in Dallas, serious crime fell by 40 percent despite a 3 percent decline in per capita police staffing.
Opportunities for Improving NYPD Cost Efficiency
A key component of the Council's proposal is to shift the focus from hiring new officers to taking advantage of restructuring opportunities within the NYPD to achieve similar ends at less cost. As discussed earlier, the Council proposes using a portion of the $32 million in savings from not accelerating police hiring to instead hire 250 additional civilian NYPD personnel in the coming year, and also proposes to hire another 250 civilians in 2001. The Council argues that this would allow 500 uniformed police officers to return to direct policing assignments.
The Council's proposal builds on a February 1999 City Comptroller audit that concluded the city could realize about $36 million in annual cost savings by staffing over 1,200 positions currently occupied by police officers with less costly civilian personnel, without jeopardizing public safety.
The NYPD responded that the Comptroller's projected savings were overstated, in part due to the inclusion of an unspecified number of positions that the NYPD contends should remain staffed by uniformed personnel. The NYPD went on to say that any reduction in overall uniformed headcount within the NYPD would violate the conditions of funding received by the agency under the federal Crime Bill.
Other opportunities for increasing effectiveness without increasing costs might be found through evaluating issues such as the productivity differences that exist between police agencies in major American cities. For example, IBO's analysis of arrest data from 1996 shows that in cities such as San Diego and San Jose (with crime rates nearly as low or lower than New York City's) police officers on average made significantly more arrests per year than did their New York City counterparts. According to these data, police officers in San Diego and San Jose made 28 and 30 arrests per officer, respectively, as compared with 17 arrests per officer in New York City.
IBO is continuing to research this important topic, and welcomes comments and suggestions from all interested parties. For more information on IBO's work in this area, contact Bernard O'Brien, Senior Budget and Policy Analyst, at (212) 442-8656.