Monday, May 03, 2010

Justice system takes biggest hit when budget crunch gets local

I'm not surprised by news that Houston may be slashing overtime for police and firefighters in response to a budget crunch that's even been receiving international attention.

There are ways to reduce staffing costs without reducing police coverage, but I'm less than sanguine anyone in Houston will seriously consider them. Houston should be authorizing police officers to issue citations instead of making arrests for low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors. And eliminating responses to false burglar alarms by initiating verified response would be like adding dozens of cops to the force without costing the city a dime.

Governments at all levels - federal, state and local - are facing historic budget crises this year, but criminal justice spending affects government inversely from Washington to city hall.

At the federal level, spending on law enforcement and prisons, even if one includes border security and immigration detention costs, is dwarfed by budgets for national defense and entitlements. In an era in Washington where "trillion is the new billion," costs for federal prisons, the FBI, DEA, etc., aren't particularly expensive compared to expanding national health insurance or fighting multiple wars of choice overseas.

At the state level, criminal justice spending of all types is typically the third or fourth largest state spending priority - big enough to be significant but not the dominant force in the budget. In Texas it comes in behind behind education, health care and transportation.

At the local level, though, criminal justice-related expenses typically make up the lion's share of the budget. Counties must finance jails, courts, the Sheriff's department, constables, pay lawyers for indigent defendants, and generally pay a host of costs related to criminal justice. Meanwhile, police departments are an enormous cost driver for cities - often the single largest item in their budget.

So as long as the housing market is down and property tax intake remains low, criminal justice spending will continue to take the biggest hit at the local level. Houston won't be the last city looking to cut police budgets, but how they choose to do so may set the tone for how other Texas cities handle similar situations.


kaptinemo said...

The belt can only be tightened so much before you start to crush your diaphragm and can't breathe.

So, it's up to local and State governments to know just how much to tighten. And one of the extra notches that could be made without endangering that diaphragm is to end the useless, Sisyphean DrugWar. It's swallowed down enough blood and treasure, and shows no sign of ever being successful. And it's bankrupting those local and State governments.

People on unemployment and can't find work are facing fiscal Armageddon due to the last tier of their UI running out, and need the money being thrown into the toilet of drug prohibition. Isn't it time to stop and take stock of just how much we can afford as a society to throw money into whupping up on people that, as one Texas legislator put it, government was 'mad at'?

Anonymous said...

good I'm Glad the systems is hurting , I've give them most my money. all for one no insurance ticket that spiraled into 6000 dollars in surcharges. I could care less. The police NEVER did anything for me!!! NEVER. Got hit by a drunk driver and then he ran, they didn't even bother looking for the rich person who took my only source of transportation from me. Got robbed , and i later found out it was one of my distant friends and the police did nothing to research who did it from the beginning. I live a legal honest life and the POLICE have been stopping me left and right for no reason or because of some Scuff-law live insurance and tags. i bet Ive paid 4 thousand just to stay out of jail for Driving while license suspended just these past two years. And that was from my unemployment witch has now run out!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

for the post above
sorry i just woke up , a lot of typos there !!

Anonymous said...

Grits..Know that illegal immigration is a hot button but do we know how many illegal aliens are convicted of non-violent felony offenses being held by TDCJ whose sentences, if were commuted and deported, and how much money it would save the state of Texas?

Anonymous said...

I think that the 'justice' system SHOULD be hit anytime the wallet is a bit light, IMO. The state government have created a monster here, not only local ppolice, but their one way door policy on offenders, this stupid 'war on drugs', the predator drone flights (which I still state WTF to)

The budget for the state would be alot lighter if we started slashing city/county/state rolls, start demanding few laws instead of laws that protect the fornication of sea crustaceans or some such BS.

hey here's a REALLY cool idea, let's start sending politicians a message instead of rewarding them every election. time to sweep EVERYONE out of office.

Anonymous said...

Yes, its amazing how Houston and Harris County are having to cut fire and police budgets, and Harris County is cutting pay to appointed defense attorneys, yet they can each find 10 million dollars to fund a new soccer stadium, because God knows that Houston doesn't have enough sports stadiums! Not to mention how vitally important to citizen security those stadiums will be!

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