Research Shows Fewer Police Officers Means More Crime. Cutting Them Could Cost Louisville Much More.
Updated: Jun 12
With the bipartisan rejection of an insurance tax hike, Louisville Metro Government must redirect $35 million to pension obligations for the FY20 budget. Because Metro Council rightfully declined to raise taxes, Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Steve Conrad has said LMPD will respond by cutting three recruiting classes and ending ShotSpotter.
“We will see bleeding, and unfortunately, it's not figurative," Conrad said. He went on to say that “The things that I guess I've likened the changes in the police department to is a slow train wreck, and that is still an appropriate example of what will occur.”
Chief Conrad is right in his assessment that these cuts would be disastrous for public safety, and that’s why LMPD should give Metro Council time to act before making these cuts.
Writing for Governing Magazine in 2012, former Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser sums up what the current situation is in Louisville; “Yes, times are tough and budgets are tight, but more cops, better managed, equals less crime.”
LMPD has, over the last year, battled back a rise in shootings and homicides that resulted in two straight years of 100+ murders, including Louisville’s deadliest year on record. This has largely been done by re-purposing resources and changes in strategy.
Cutting three recruiting classes
As we have pointed out before, police are the part of the criminal justice system most visible to the public, and when managed effectively, policing can be a powerful crime deterrent and can meaningfully impact crime rates.
While crime rates are the result of a number of complex factors, some outside of a city’s control, a city “can control the number of police officers their city employs and the strategies those officers use. Various studies have shown that putting more police on the streets does indeed reduce crime.”
In fact, a 2018 study looked at police and crime data from 1960 through 2010 and concluded that every $1 spent on policing generates about $1.63 in social benefits, mostly through reductions in homicides. That same year an analysis of the departments that received additional federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant money saw a 3.2% increase in police staffing and a 3.5% reduction in crime as compared to similar departments that did not receive the grant money.
Similarly, a 2005 study of crime in Washington, D.C., found that during periods of heightened terror levels, when officers would "surge" into the U.S. Capitol area, street crime dropped not only around the National Mall but all through the city.
While cutting costs by eliminating recruiting classes might save money in the short term, the social cost of doing so could be far greater.
This is particularly true for Louisville, because when it comes to officers per 10,000 residents, we’re already well below national average. An analysis by Governing Magazine found that national average for officers per 10,000 residents in departments serving more that 500,000 residents was 24.3.
In Louisville Metro, the number is 18.2 officers per 10,000 residents. That’s the lowest of our regional counterparts as well. Nashville Metro has 21.3 officer per 10,000 residents, Cincinnati has 35.2, Indianapolis has 18.3.
With Louisville already behind on officers per capita, our city cannot afford to not bring in new recruits.
Number of officers on the street isn’t the only thing that matters though, strategic deployment of those officers also matters. Intelligence-lead policing, especially people and places based policing, requires the most complete information possible and an accurate breakdown of where violent crimes, especially shootings, are taking place.
First installed in Louisville in May of 2017, ShotSpotter is a gunshot detention system aimed at getting more complete data on shots fired and reducing office response time when guns do go off.
While it isn’t a silver bullet, ShotSpotter is a key tool in furthering an intelligence lead policing strategy. According to a study released by The Brookings Institute, shots fired go greatly under reported. Using data from Washington, DC, and Oakland, CA, they found that only 12% of gunfire incidents result in a call to 911, and only 2-7% of incidents result in a reported assault with a dangerous weapon.
Researchers using a test area in Redwood City, CA by contrast found that ShotSpotter accurately detected “80% of the shots fired in the field test; 72% of the shots were also triangulated, with a 25-foot margin of error in pinpointing the exact location of the gunshot.”
Elimination of ShotSpotter would drastically reduce the accuracy of information with which LMPD can craft strategy. The technology was even credited by Chief Conrad as leading to the arrest of a murder suspect in the Russell neighborhood in 2017.
Taken together, a reduction in new officers and loss of an important information gathering tool would likely result in the “bleeding” Chief Conrad referred to.
This doesn’t need to be the case though. Making these kinds of cuts before Metro Council acts is premature and irresponsible. The $35 million needed accounts for about 5.6% of Metro Government’s $621 million budget and as Councilman Brent Ackerson pointed out Tuesday, a 10% cut to all non-public safety departments could save $25-30 million.
Public safety is the most important function of local governments, and in tough financial times, cuts should come to it last, not first.