Cutting Crime Pays — But At What Cost?

Cutting Crime Pays — But At What Cost?

A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that cities should do anything they can to avoid cutting crime-reduction budgets during these lean times.

There isn’t a city that is escaping the knife in 2009 (if there is, please let me know). Budget cuts are coming, dashing the hopes of many cities to implement better transportation projects or sustainability plans. They’re also taking a toll on schools, libraries, fire departments and police stations. But out in Los Angeles, where the weather is predicted to be a balmy 72 this weekend, police chief William Bratton is adding more cops.

The city is adding 1,000 police officers, pushing its force levels in the Los Angeles Police Department to above 10,000 for the first time. Even as the city faces a more than $400 million shortfall for this fiscal year and next, the police budget — the city’s most costly department — is emerging largely unscathed.
— Wall Street Journal

Bratton has been at the job in LA for the past six years and overseen a dramatic drop in crime. According to the WSJ, Los Angeles is on target for 374 homicides this year, compared with 647 in 2002. (As a comparison Philadelphia, a city about one-third the size of LA, recently hit the 300-homicide milestone in a particularly macabre way.)

In order to prove that cutting crime is worth its cost, Bratton has been seriously crunching the numbers. Apparently, each homicide costs LA $1 million. Another $13 million has been saved in prison costs, more money saved with the 31 percent reduction in auto theft. Essentially, Bratton seems to be saying that the city reaps a good return on investment with money spent on cops. Add to that the safe feeling of being able to go outside, and you can imagine that people spend more money and are willing to invest in the city.

But take a more, um, radical approach to the situation and you’ll find some people wondering why the city gets to add more police officers, when it’s already witnessed a good enough drop in crime, at the same time as it’s refusing to spend in other departments. When is enough police enough?

What’s your take? Where should LA or your city be spending its money in 2009?

Diana Lind is the former executive director and editor in chief of Next City.

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