Monday, August 29, 2016

Size of police forces have less to do with crime reduction than policing strategies

Every municipal budget cycle, police administrators approach local budget writers asking for more officers to combat crime. But hiring more cops is expensive and local officials seldom have a way to judge whether doing so will increase public safety for their constituents.

Recently, researchers conducted "a systematic review of 62 studies and 229 findings of police force size and crime from 1971 through 2013. Only studies of U.S. policing and containing standard errors of estimates were included." Their analysis revealed that, "the overall effect size for police force size on crime is negative, small, and not statistically significant."

The upshot of their meta-analysis: "This line of research has exhausted its utility. Changing policing strategy is likely to have a greater impact on crime than adding more police."

That's not what police chiefs and unions are telling city councils in local budget conversations. Regardless, at this point, the costs of adding ever-more officers without changing policing strategies and adequately funding various support services probably can't be justified in most instances.

H/T: Deriek Cohen


BarkGrowlBite said...

The size of police forces may very well not matter in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, etc. that already have well-staffed police agencies. But what about the under-staffed smaller cities and towns? And then there are your rural county sheriff departments that in most instances are woefully understaffed. You better believe that in those smaller towns and rural sheriff departments size does matter!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yeah, BGB, damn the data. I'm sure your seat-of-the-pants analysis is right and dozens of studies are wrong.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Don't give me that seat-of-the-pants shit. I've visited many of those smaller cities and rural areas. Just call for a deputy when you need one in rural counties while someone is breaking in your house and see how long it takes him while running hot to get there. In some of the smaller towns there are no cops working after 2 a.m. When you need a cop there the call for help is transferred to his home and he has to get out of bed and dressed before hitting the bricks. And I'm not talking about some of those speed trap villages either.

When you accuse someone of that seat-of-the pants crap, look at yourself in the mirror!

Anonymous said...

Both of you might consider that the size of police departments most certainly has an impact, those studies always focusing on some small aspect of the situation. Big cities tend to have a huge labyrinth of rules and policies that dictate how manpower is utilized, often in very inefficient ways, and small cities, even the traffic traps, tend to play a lot more loosely. A policy by Dallas or Houston that demands a detailed, written report for almost every offense despite a complete lack of solvability factors, end up using a great deal of manpower each year for reports that will get skimmed over at best.

The demand by acting police chiefs or appointed sheriffs that their officers/deputies arrest anyone for minor amounts of pot possession, further requiring the evidence be submitted for analysis immediately, and all other functions as though the crime were for a drug cartel leader's apprehension, cost a great many man hours each year too, the list of policies that waste precious time is nearly endless, that being why HPD was proven to have tens of thousands of cases that went untouched, and still does, as well as HCSO ending the popular touch DNA program for lack of additional funds.

You can chalk up popular programs by commissioner's court or city councils for wasting resources too but the bottom line is that police departments answer to the politicians that fund them. They can't say "no" without getting budget cuts or being told to find manpower for the popular programs in order to handle the day to day functions. HPD's commissioned study released awhile back proved they were under staffed by a great many officers based on such policies, you either need more people or a willingness to ditch things that don't work very well, the average officer having absolutely no say whatsoever (for that matter, neither to any ranks below chief). But the "dozens of studies" out there are never comprehensive, rarely seem to mention political wishlists as a major function of the need for more people, and are often so heavily flawed that the researchers should go sell shoes for a living. I can address any specific study's flaws you like Scott, wishful thinking or the desire to prop up the agenda do not enhance their value in any way.

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