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New Data: Police Spending Has Been Rising for Years

Amid calls to reduce police funding, a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that in 2017, police spending per capita recovered to its pre-recession peak after years of steady increases.

by / July 15, 2020

In the wake of a new group of police killings of Black Americans, protesters have begun calling on state and local governments to “defund the police.”

According to newly released data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, those calls are coming amid years of increased spending.

The data show that the amount of money state and local government spends on policing per person dropped rather dramatically during the Great Recession, bottoming out at $307 per capita in 2013 before rising steadily to $326 in 2017 — matching its previous peak in 2009.

Since the nation’s population has grown in that time period, that means the actual dollars spent on policing have increased. In 2009, state and local governments spent about $100 billion on policing; in 2017 that number was $106 billion.

That represents about 3.7 percent of direct general expenditures, the Bureau found.

Since the report ends at 2017, it can't shed light on whether the trends have continued.

The data also show that different police departments have gone in very different financial directions. Of the 25 most populous cities, 18 have increased per capita police spending since 2000 while 7 have reduced it. The most dramatic reduction was in San Diego, where spending dropped more than 26 percent from $285 per person to $209.

The biggest increase was in the booming city of Austin, Texas, where spending rose 77 percent from $192 per person to $339.

These inflation-adjusted figures come from the State And Local Government Expenditures On Police Protection In The U.S.report, which extracts data from existing Census Bureau survey results.

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Ben Miller Associate Editor of GT Data and Business

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.

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