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More than Half of Police Departments Suffer Budget Cuts This Year, More Cuts Expected Next Year

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
October 18, 2010

Fifty-one percent of 608 police departments responding to a new survey by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) have had to cut their budgets this year, and that cut has averaged seven percent. Among those departments whose budgets were cut this year, 59 percent are preparing to cut their budgets again next year, the survey found. Thirty-nine percent of all of the departments participating in the survey anticipate budget cuts next year, and they expect those cuts to average 8.1 percent. These findings contrast with those of a similar survey that PERF conducted last year, which found that the budgets of these same departments increased by an average of six percent.

The report, released in Washington (DC) September 30, shows that there has been a three percent decrease in the average number of officers sworn between FY 2009 and FY 2010 across the surveyed departments. While police chiefs overwhelmingly say that when budgets must be cut, they give highest priority to maintaining sworn officer positions, because personnel costs often account for 90 percent or more of police budgets, and it can be impossible to make enough cuts elsewhere. There was also a one percent drop in the number of civilian personnel.

Among the personnel actions police departments have taken:

  • 66 percent cut overtime spending;

  • 58 percent eliminated or reduced police employee salary increase;

  • 43 percent instituted a hiring freeze for sworn positions;

  • 43 percent also instituted a hiring freeze for civilian positions;

  • 36 percent reduced staffing levels through attrition;

  • 22 percent laid off employees; and

  • 16 percent implemented unpaid furloughs.

    “For the last 20 years, we have been making fundamental improvements in policing, and have achieved significant results,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, PERF's President. “The national homicide rate plummeted 47 percent between 1990 and 2009, according to the latest FBI figures. But many chiefs are concerned that these advances are being threatened by cuts in our resources. Hiring of officers, training, and policing technology are all being cut. Our concern is that the underpinnings of our successes are being dismantled.”

    Among the other budgetary actions police departments have taken:

  • 72 percent reduced out-of-town travel

  • 68 percent reduced or discontinued training;

  • 60 percent are considering increasing fees for police services;

  • 55 percent have cut back or eliminated plans to acquire technology;

  • 38 percent are discontinuing special units (e.g., gang, traffic enforcement);

  • 30 percent are implementing or considering a tax increase to avoid police service cuts; and

  • 31 percent discontinued take-home cars.

    “Our sense is that over the next year we will begin seeing the impact of these budget cuts,” said PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler. “Departments have gone through the first round of cuts—slashing overtime, furloughing officers, cancelling new hires, and cutting technology. These cuts are like pulling the support beams out of a building one by one. The building won't fall down immediately, but eventually the damage will become evident.”