In 2013, the tiny industrial city of Vernon, squeezed into a five-square-mile nook south of downtown Los Angeles, spent nearly nine times as much per capita on its police department than any other city in the state of California.
At least, that’s according to ClearGov, which has launched a nationwide data tool for comparing state and local governments’ financials against each other. The tool, available for governments in all 50 states and encompassing more than 36,000 municipalities, offers data for a whole range of revenue and spending categories like sales and excise taxes, debt, general funds, public works spending and federal aid. Those figures are broken down on a per capita basis, and users can set filters or search for specific places.
“Our goal has always been to transform complex data into actionable intelligence,” said ClearGov Chief Executive Officer Chris Bullock in a press release. “It is our hope that our new state and local government rankings and analyses provide yet another opportunity for research and sharing of best practices across governments.”
The data, which the company pulls en masse from publicly available databases in order to more efficiently fill out its thousands of state, local government and school district portals, may not always be 100 percent reliable. Take Vernon, for example — though ClearGov lists the city’s population at 60 in 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau put it at 113 that year. If the per capita police spending were to be calculated using the Census Bureau’s number, it would drop from $191,000 per person to $102,000 — still far higher than any other city in the state
Still, the ClearGov portal offers other tools for context. For example, one can see that the city of Hermosa Beach, also in Los Angeles County, spent only 6 percent more than Vernon on its police department in 2013 despite having a population many, many multiples larger than Vernon.
ClearGov’s business model is to build portals specific to government jurisdictions — cities, states and a growing number of school districts — and fill them with data that is often otherwise only available in siloes. They can then offer those governments the chance to “claim” their portals, meaning they pay to beef them up with more and better data, customize them and access back-end analytics services to help with their operational intelligence.
Since the ClearGov network encompasses most of the country, that means the company already had a de facto national government financial database at its fingertips. Previously, it used that capacity to let its customers find similar jurisdictions and compare their metrics against peers who represented a fairer benchmark. The ranking tools make that information available to anybody for the first time.