Special Report

How Much Money Goes to Police Departments in America's Largest Cities

Protesters have taken to the streets across the country in the last month demanding that cities “defund the police” and re-examine use-of-force policies.

The demonstrations, most of them peaceful, were sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for eight minutes 46 seconds as the African American man pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”

The protests also invoked the names of other Black people who have been killed by police, among them:

  • Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician who was at home asleep when police carried out a “no knock” warrant and shot her eight times.
  • Atatiana Jefferson, a pre-med graduate student who was shot as she was babysitting her 8-year-old nephew in her mother’s home.
  • Botham Jean, an accountant who was fatally shot as he was eating ice cream in his apartment by an off-duty police officer who said she mistakenly thought it was her apartment.
  • Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was fatally shot in a park after someone reported that he had a gun. It was a BB gun.
  • Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold. Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.”

As discussions and debates center on how much money should be allocated for police departments, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed law-enforcement spending in the 50 most populous U.S. cities.

Total police budgets range from just over $100 million a year (Virginia Beach, Virginia) to $5 billion a year (New York City). 

Police department appropriations generally account for the largest share of the budget in 35 of the 50 largest cities. But it’s difficult to draw meaningful comparisons between cities because they use wildly different budgeting mechanisms. For example, the huge Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department budget, $656 million, is funded not only by the city of Las Vegas. Clark County also puts in a significant amount. And there’s an allocated property tax exclusively for funding cops. 

In other cities, police departments are funded entirely by the city government. But when comparing the breakdown of city budgets, it’s important to remember that some city governments fund big budget items, like education and health services. In other jurisdictions, those line items are funded outside of the city budget.

In many cities, the largest portion of the police budget is used to cover salaries, benefits, and overtime for officers and civilian employees. Yet police chiefs and city officials often say police pay is inadequate. In 2019, the median pay for a police officer in the United States was $65,170, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Officials’ response to the protests demanding cuts in police spending have varied. In Tucson, Arizona, the city council has delayed a vote on the 2021 budget so more residents can be heard. In Virginia Beach, Mayor Bobby Dyer wrote an Op-Ed article in The Virginian-Pilot saying: “Defund the police? No way.”

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the mayor has announced that the city will create a new community safety department that will use unarmed social workers, housing and homelessness specialists, and violence prevention coordinators to respond to nonemergency situations.

And in some cities, like Philadelphia, Dallas, and Long Beach, California, police cutbacks are coming in any case because of budget shortfalls related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Click here to see how much money goes to police departments in America’s largest cities

To identify the police departments with the largest budgets, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the approved police department budgets in each of the 50 most populous cities in the United States for the latest fiscal year that was available. To compare cities, we ranked each city’s police budget as a percentage of its total operating budget. In some cities, like New York and Chicago, the public school system is included in the city budget. In others, like Los Angeles, it is not.

We excluded capital budgets.