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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Are police force reductions needed in Cincinnati?

With the new members of City Council now sworn in, the debate surrounding the City's annual budget has once again gotten heated. Much of the debate this year swirls around layoffs instead of city services like in past years. More specifically the debate is over who should be laid off.

A significant change took place on November 3rd, when Charlie Winburn (R) made his way onto City Council in place of Greg Harris (D). The change represents a shift in power when it comes to the budget discussions which previously had a 5-4 majority in favor of cutting some of the public safety budget which, instead of being trimmed in past years, has actually grown.

In the past I asked the question as to whether we actually know how many police officers we need in order to maintain a safe city, or if anybody actually knew the answer to that question. The natural answer always seems to be add more police officers and continue to increase their budget, but common thought should be examined when we are discussing people's jobs and livelihoods.

I am of the mindset that much more than shear force is responsible for public safety. After school programs, mentoring, crime prevention initiatives, and job programs are all proven tactics that can be used in maintaining public safety. With that said, a good way to measure quantifiables is to compare yourself to peer cities.

Click chart to open larger version in new window

After some research it turns out that while Cincinnati lost 8 percent of its population from 1990 to 2010, the City has actually grown its police force by 21 percent over that same time. If you factor in the proposed police force reduction that number would change from a 21 percent increase to a 9 percent increase, and once again, while our population declined 8 percent.

If no police reduction is made in the 2010 budget, Cincinnati will have 1,135 sworn police officers which represents 340 police officers for every 100,000 residents. If the proposed police force reduction were to happen then Cincinnati would still have 1,023 police officers representing 307 for every 100,000 residents.

When looking at how this compares with our peer cities, Cincinnati ranks at the very top of the list of police officers per 100,000 residents even with the proposed police force reduction.

It can be easy to say lets not ever cut our public safety spending, as it is the most core function of government, but as people's jobs and livelihoods are on the line we owe it to them to at least examine the situation from an objective standpoint and make the best decision for the residents of Cincinnati.

There are also good programs at risk during these budget discussions. It would not only be unfortunate, but also irresponsible, to cut spending on the City's recycling program that would reduce costs and actually grow revenues. It would be similarly irresponsible to cut spending on the Comprehensive Plan, Climate Protection Action Plan, or any other initiative that is laying the groundwork for economic development that grows revenues and reduces expenses.


Radarman said...

It's about time someone talked sensibly about this issue. Thank you, and thank you for presenting the stats.

You have to wonder what the ratios would be in a metro safety department. Same deal for firefighters.

Radarman said...

It's about time someone talked sensibly about this issue. Thank you, and thank you for presenting the stats.

You have to wonder what the ratios would be in a metro safety department. Same deal for firefighters.

David Ben said...

It is tragic when a person looses his or her job. That being said, at some point there has to be diminishing returns on the effectiveness of each additional police officer added to an already stong force. I'm sure studies have been done about that.

If anybody has any scholarly information on that, please let either Randy or I know. We'd love to look through it.

theargylist said...

One thing you should address is the cost of each police officer in these cities--not just the number of police officers per 100K. Police forces are much cheaper in states without mandatory collective bargaining. If you look at Indianapolis and Louisville, for example, they haven't had to lay-off any employees or institute cost-savings measures for public safety(furloughs, wage freezes, increased copays/premiums, etc.). These cities are flush with cash so much as their police force is less expensive.

If you look at Ohio cities, where collective bargaining is mandatory and unions are strong, the cost per police officer is much more (not just in wages, but benefits, too). Toledo's the best example--the Mayor was (literally) cutting grass in public parks because the city unions were basically untouchable.

Police unions are relentless in increasing their members' benefits and compensation to the point that cities have no choice but to implement lay-offs. Look how close the FOP got to lay-offs earlier this summer (they eventually accepted 4 furlough days). Unlike the rest of the economy, where bad times results in reductions in benefits, the FOP insists on the status quo.

A lot of the budgetary problems are due to union intransigence. Citizens shouldn't have to put up with less police protection because unions are being unreasonable.

Quim said...

DB, This is pretty old, but a test was done in Kansas City. It was done back before people started blasting away with their guns whenever somebody looked at 'em sideways.
Understanding how police are deployed in the other cities would probably be important, too.

David Ben said...

Thanks Quim! I'll take a look.

Lincoln said...

The conceit that there is an objective standpoint to this issue is untenable This is a choice between good options. It's a political choice, and it is influenced by a whole host of factors, none of which can be said to be simply good or bad.

One could make the argument that the fact that Harris was replaced by Winburn, an opponent of layoffs, means that the citizens have spoken against layoffs. There's plenty of reasons to disagree with this narrative- nevertheless, it is most compelling (and arguably most objective- it is fact that Winburn opposed police layoffs and that Winburn was eleceted and Harris was not) because it is the simplest.

The primary interest of the City is to sustain itself (i.e. maintain population and fiscal health). The secondary interests branch off of that- to add value to its citizens while reducing costs. The big question that exists for city officials is how to add value given their city's unique circumstances.

I'm curious how Randy would decide in a theoretical choice between cutting the recycling program and adding 100 new occupants to Over-the-Rhine, or choosing between the recycling program and (partial) funding of the streetcar. Given what has been stated here about the importance of revitalizing the urban core, one can say, with some claim to authority, that from the perspectives of local economy (and the city revenues that generate therefrom), sustainability (recycling in the broad sense of the word) and competitiveness vs. other cities, the repopulation of OTR is far more important than curbside recycling. It is something that directly effects priority 1 of the city- to sustain itself.

While there's a good argument to make that the police aren't being properly deployed, simply comparing the size of the police complement to population size isn't a terribly telling statistic. Can't one legitimately make the argument that less population requires more police? Or that a city that has experienced great population loss experiences an uptick in crime and police? Or that a city with a higher percentage of impoverished homes has more police per capita? There are probably some stats out there that can back up those arguments as well.

Ultimately, my point is that political choices, as this budget is, requires trade-offs. If your goal is to see the core repopulated, then you are going to have to make some concessions to those people who you share this city with but don't share your goals. Anyone who claims they know exactly how many cops are need for a city to be safe are only making a rhetorical point, just as is anyone who claims that extra police presence would have definitively prevented a specific crime from having had happened.

Randy Simes said...


One could very well say that the selection of Winburn was the public's way of saying that they opposed any police force reduction. My goal was to simply highlight the fact that the change took place and that a majority now exists to block any police force reduction whereas before it did not.

I will always contend that the primary function of government is to protect its citizens. The argument you make about the City needing to sustain yourself is an interesting point and suggests the fact that the City could somehow manage to no longer exist.

You mention the recycling program. I should mention that the proposed enhanced recycling program, that was hotly debated earlier this year, would actually generate revenue for the City through the materials contract with Rumpke (they pay the City for the raw materials they get...more materials = more money).

As for choosing between one item in a hypothetical situation and another, it's not that simply which I think you understand. What my position is that while cuts have to be made, we should be making those decisions off of the best information we have. Over the past several years many departments have suffered cuts to their budgets and staff while others, notably the police, have not...and that gets to the point of this post.

Are we sure that not cutting funding to the police is a positive thing? I'm not saying that it is or isn't, but rather, I'm contending that we don't know and that the blind movement forward to always pumping more money and resources into public safety isn't necessarily the best solution for the City and its citizens.

The role of the City Manager is to present a budget that in their professional opinion is best for the City. This may not be in line with the interests of City Council and their constituency, but that is for them to decide in the public/political arena. What I want to see is some evidence as to why we should be growing the police force in a way that is out of sync with the growth of the rest of the city. To me that just seems to be good business.

Brad said...


Building the Streetcar will not use funds that could be spent on Police Officers and Fire Fighters. The Streetcar will be funded with funds from the Capital Budget (the budget used to make investments in bridges, roads, rail, etc.) Police Officers and Fire Fighters are paid with funds from the Operating Budget (the budget used to pay salaries and fund the pension). By law, Capital Funds cannot be used to pay Operating expenses.

Lincoln said...


These were merely hypotheticals. My point was simply that the political aspect is inherent in the question, "What's the best choice?" There isn't something that is objectively the best choice. I brought up the streetcar and OTR repopulation versus the recycling program as issues that are advocated for on this site, and to suggest that the difficulty lies in prioritizing between several things that you want, not between things you want and things you don't.

[A brief aside- I think it is wrong to assume, if that is what was suggested, that the City Manager's budget recommendations represent a wholly professional or clinical opinion, and are not at least designed with the express intent of being changed by the politicians, for example, the continually proposed and continually eliminated garbage tax].

I don't have a dog in this fight, other than to say that it seems ungenerous to suggest that those who support one policy (in this case a certain number of sworn police officers) are engaging, or tend to engage, in blind, political, or insert dismissive adjective here, rhetoric, and the proponents of the enhanced recycling program are manifesting pure goodwill. There simply is no objective opinion. This is not science, it's government. Whether or not one choice is better (and better in the sense that one does more than the other to produce a specific end- the very fact that one choice is intended for one end and the other for another is the crux of choice!) than the other will never change the fact that both choices are intrinsically political.

Randy Simes said...


I understand they were hypotheticals...I'm just not going to entertain hypotheticals for situations this complex. I'm just trying to point out that no one seems to be addressing whether or not we need this great of a police force, or if we need a greater one. I just think some evidence would be useful.

As for the City Manager, sure his recommendations probably assume somewhat of a position that they will be tweaked, but in the end he acts at the CEO of the City and is trying to do his best to make it successful in all aspects. Politics may, and probably do, influence his decisions to a certain extent just like personal beliefs probably influence the decisions made by A.G. Lafley, Donald Trump, or Carl Lindner.

It should also be clear that I'm not saying that just because you don't support the proposed enhanced recycling program or a reduction in police force that you're engaging in blind and/or dismissive politics. But at the same time there are choices that are better than others.

The proposed enhanced recycling program would improve recycling numbers across the city. This would reduce the liability costs associated with trash collection, improve our local environment, and pay for itself and them some through the increased revenues generated by higher raw materials collection fees collected from Rumpke. Objectively, this is a winner...the reasons for NOT doing it are purely political in my mind.

Jerry said...

I wonder how if we could have chart for how many million$ those cities of similar size spent on leasing recycling cans and buying new windows. Maybe they have a bigger trash can budget.

Lincoln said...

It doesn't matter to me personally whether they reduce the police force or begin the enhanced recycling program.

All I'm saying is this- a pure political reason to do or not do something is still a legitimate reason, because any action by a legislative body is inherently a political act. Once again it's simply a choice that is made because the reality is that you can't do everything at once and please everyone. Let's think about it in these terms: politicians decided between pushing for the streetcar and the enhanced recycling program last August not because one was good and the other was bad but rather perhaps from a viewpoint of the ability of the electorate to absorb change, particularly during a time of financial crisis. That's just being strategic. There's no perfect city that exists outside of the concerns of the citizens, even if those concerns are irrational and mistaken.

Lincoln said...

Just to belabor the point, Here's Marc Armbinder's response to an anti-Copenhagen op-ed piece by Sarah Palin in the Washington Post:

This is what I'm talking about:

Palin [from the op-ed]: "Our representatives in Copenhagen should remember that good environmental policymaking is about weighing real-world costs and benefits- not pursuing a political agenda."

Armbinder [comments]: "Of course, that's what politics is- figuring out who gets what and who pays for it."

Castigating political positions as being "political" for a temporary rhetorical benefit chips away at the integrity of the process and encourages people to rationalize every point as being a position to further ones own agenda. It tends to destroy any respect for objectivity. And that's when you end up with Sarah Palin talking about climate change in the Washington Post, because if everything is political, then everyone has political agenda, and since everyone is an expert in their own opinion, it ceases to matter if your opinion is supported by scientific processes. Throwing out random data doesn't help this either- remember the ridiculous, OTR most dangerous neighborhood in America article?

Randy Simes said...


If you read my previous response you'll realize that I understand a political element exists in every decision that is made, but that does not mean that some policy decisions are better or worse than others.

With that said, there still has been virtually no evidence showing whether Cincinnati needs more, less, or the same amount of money allocated towards public safety. And given that Cincinnati spends about $180M/year on police/fire it seems like something we should at least look into. I'm just trying to call attention to this fact and hopefully spark some discussion on the matter.

Lincoln said...

I did read your comments, that's why I've been continuing to comment. That and I'm off work today.

I think we're talking about two different things- you seem to be speaking about actual policies you are concerned about promoting whereas I'm concerned with how things are described.

I think the "this program pays for itself" line should be abandoned by folks who want to see progressive action. How many times was that line utilized against the streetcar this past year? Just because a program has an ability to capture the revenue that sustains it doesn't make it a intrinsically more relevant than a program that is simpler to fund through general taxation; in addition, it exposes itself to the line that it should therefore be a function of the private sector, since it is so easily monetized.

Lincoln said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leiflet said...

Once you start quoting Sarah "Can't Finish One Term of a State with Half the Population of Cincinnati" Palin, I'm afraid you've lost my interest.

Citizens should always question the decisions being made behind closed doors. In fact, I don't think decisions should without transparency.

Whether or not we have "enough" cops is open to debate (i certainly have my own opinion). However, once it becomes a "necessity" to have X number of cops, without being able to question why, we are stuck with a bill that gets bigger and bigger.

Randy Simes said...

The thing is that I'm not promoting any particular policy at this stage in the game. Sure I promote certain policies over others, but I have only been using the proposed enhanced recycling program as an example.

As the policy was debated there was clear evidence as to its pros and cons. The politicians debated those facts and then based their decision of of that and what they felt their constituency wanted. That's how it should work. I don't agree with how things went down during that debate, but I at least respect that the process involved facts and evidence to make informed decisions. Where is that in this budget process as we discuss police/fire budgets?

As for the "pays for itself" line, I will continue to use that. I believe that public policy should be based off of sound evidence and fiscal judgement. Any time you can have a particular policy item pay for itself without the need of additional taxpayer dollars that is a significant bonus and should be weighed accordingly.

You seem to be talking political insider speak and breaking down the use of language and argument more so than the actual topic that I am trying to bring awareness to. Are you satisfied with the way things are going in the budget process? Do you feel like the public and policy makers have enough information surrounding police/fire to know whether we need more, less or the same amount of service?

Lincoln said...

I don't think policy makers particularly care. I suspect that the police don't deploy their forces in a manner that maximizes their potential, but rather in a manner that reflects the interests of Chief Streicher. So long as more riots don't happen, I suspect that most public officials are satisfied. I also don't think that laying off police officers will change the way the department deploys its force. So if the city is policing inefficiently with 340 officers, it will continue to police inefficiently with 307 officers. Either way, the police force still has the same leadership. Objectively speaking, if the force isn't being deployed correctly, that problem has nothing to do with how many folks are on the force.

I don't think that the public understands the issue at any particular depth, nor do I think that the public is particularly engaged on this issue. It basically is just the stage for which the media can present the narrative of a fight.

Regarding the "pay for itself" line, my point is that it is all smoke. The point is that by advertising policy as "paying for itself", when in fact what you mean is that the costs of the program are captured by fees that the program generates, one implies that this situation is perfectly replicable and that other programs that can't replicate this are inherently unsustainable. This was an explicit criticism of the streetcar, that the project was inefficient because farebox receipts wouldn't meet operations cost. But objectively, who cares if operations are paid out of user fees if user fees represent a less efficient method of collection than a tax that is levied generally? By touting the way costs are collected over the goal, you end up promoting a line of argument that is more usefully deployed by people who don't want to see any public expenditure whatsoever (and incidentally, the crux of every one of their arguments is that they don't want to see public expenditure precisely because of the way the costs are collected- this is what COAST is always purporting to say. Private transit companies are fine because they impose fee based costs, whereas public transit companies are bad because they impose the cost generally).

It strikes me that these distinctions are required to educate people on how to objectively evaluate policy.

Randy Simes said...

I understand your points Lincoln, they just aren't the points that I'm getting at with this post, or my comments. You seem to be glossing over my fairly direct questions posed above.

Are you satisfied with the way things are going in the budget process? Do you feel like the public and policy makers have enough information surrounding police/fire to know whether we need more, less or the same amount of service?

I just feel like our policy makers should be informed when deciding on these important issues, and in this case, I have the feeling that they are not. It instead comes across like no one feels that they can stand up and say that we need to look at the issue of police/fire and reevaluate whether or not they need additional funds, less funds, or the same amount of funds.

Lincoln said...

I thought I answered them. I'll try again.

Are you satisfied with the way things are going in the budget process?
-I don't know what you are referring to. The biggest expense any organization has is typically personnel, and given the nature of the union contracts and the capacity the city has to effect them, it make perfect sense to ask unions for concessions.

-The biggest problem with the budget is that it doesn't represent a particular plan so much as an attempt to continuous cobble together a certain amount of money to pay for what we've always paid for. There seems to be little evaluation of the effectiveness of what we do across the board. This state of affairs exists independently from the number of cops.

Do you feel like the public and policy makers have enough information surrounding police/fire to know whether we need more less or the same amount of service?

-As I said, I don't think the general public is actually that interested and I don't think policymakers care too much because they are relatively certain of being elected regardless of the issues.

-My impression is that the public wants more public safety services. But these folks also want more services in general, and want to pay less for them.

-I don't think it's a question of information, though some better information certainly couldn't hurt.

My opinion is that the biggest problem isn't lack of information, or a feeling that politicians can't stand up and say that we need to look at police and fire, the biggest problem with the police department is with the leadership of the department, and the politicians that enable that leadership. There seems to be little oversight of how the department operates, and less desire to make it accountable. But cutting cops doesn't hurt the leadership, particularly the chief, who isn't terribly interested in implementing programs people like (OTR walking patrols, sheriffs patrols [I understand that the sheriffs aren't CPD]). So to me the issue of cops effectiveness and too many police is a superficial one that doesn't go on to address the fundamental problems with the department.

If you want to get super-objective, you could try and ask how each expenditure effects increasing the amount of taxpayers living or working in the city, since that is what the city needs to fund things, but really, that would be an absurd exercise.

EPHIA said...

Respectfully: cops/capita is not a good metric. If all citizens obeyed the law no cops would be needed.

A better comparison would be cops/crimes/capita which would be a reasonable measure of police strength in response to the impact of crime upon the citizens. one Part I crime/capita is less societally detrimental than 100/ or 1000/. Police presence has a certain deterring effect but most often they respond after the fact.

At the end of the day, perceptions of safety must outweight perceptions of crime, but the latter gets the ink.

theargylist said...

Though no one will read this, here's a great article from the Enquirer about police abuse of overtime/comp time. It's what I'm talking about when I say that the municipal unions are too powerful. If a City really wants to be resource-efficient, it needs to keep these sort of abuses down.

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