Special Report

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

Source: Courtesy of City of Mesa Police Department via Facebook

Mesa, Arizona
> Population, 2018: 508,979
> Police dept. funding as % of total budget, fiscal year 2020: 10.6% (10th smallest out of 50 largest cities)
> Total police budget for fiscal 2021: $202 million (15th smallest)
> Total city budget for fiscal 2021: $1.91 billion (23rd largest)
> Law enforcement employees per 100K: 236 (174th highest out of 634 cities with 65K +)
> Total law enforcement employees: 1,202 (779 officers, 423 civilian employees)
> Violent crimes reported per 100K in 2018: 364 (282nd highest out of 634 cities of 65K +)

The Mesa City Council adopted a 2021 budget in May that raises police spending by $8.5 million, according to budget documents. In June, hundreds of demonstrators marched to police headquarters, demanding de-escalation training and a smaller police budget. Among the protesters was Laney Sweet, the widow of Daniel Shaver, who in 2016 was fatally shot by police while on a business trip to Mesa. His last words were reportedly: “Please, don’t shoot me. Yes, sir.” Both Shaver and Police Officer Philip Brailsford were white. Brailsford was fired, later reinstated then retired with a $31,000 a year pension. The incident was not the only one in recent years where the Mesa police use of force had been questioned, and the FBI had launched an investigation into these incidents in 2018.

Source: Davel5957 / iStock via Getty Images

Fresno, California
> Population, 2018: 530,073
> Police dept. funding as % of total budget, fiscal year 2020: 17.0% (23rd largest out of 50 largest cities)
> Total police budget for fiscal 2020: $202 million (14th smallest)
> Total city budget for fiscal 2020: $1.19 billion (14th smallest)
> Law enforcement employees per 100K: 201 (275th highest out of 634 cities with 65K +)
> Total law enforcement employees: 1,063 (811 officers, 252 civilian employees)
> Violent crimes reported per 100K in 2018: 555 (156th highest out of 634 cities of 65K +)

The Fresno City Council’s budget hearing, held via Zoom, had more than 100 members of the public commenting on the police budget, the Fresno Bee reported. Almost everyone urged the council to cut police spending and redirect money to other city services. Many people asked why the police respond to every 911 call, even ones that do not involve crime. Questions were raised about whether social workers would be more appropriate responders for situations involving people who are homeless or mentally ill. Police Chief Andy Hall said his department receives 1,200 emergency calls per day and 1,500 to 1,700 for nonemergencies.

Tucson, Arizona
> Population, 2018: 545,987
> Police dept. funding as % of total budget, fiscal year 2020: 12.4% (14th smallest out of 50 largest cities)
> Total police budget for fiscal 2020: $193 million (11th smallest)
> Total city budget for fiscal 2020: $1.56 billion (22nd smallest)
> Law enforcement employees per 100K: 186 (303rd highest out of 634 cities with 65K +)
> Total law enforcement employees: 1,015 (807 officers, 208 civilian employees)
> Violent crimes reported per 100K in 2018: 737 (92nd highest out of 634 cities of 65K +)

The Tucson City Council has delayed action on its 2021 budget so it can hear more comments from members of the community, particularly related to the proposed police budget, The Arizona Republic reported. Protests in Tucson after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis have raised questions about police policies and tactics. The use of full riot gear and tear gas by Tucson police during protests has sparked criticism among residents. The council has been urged to move money from the police department to social services.

“It’s vital right now for you all, as our representatives, to reflect on the extent to which the militarized and violent culture of law enforcement is directly tied to the exorbitant amount of funding that they receive from bodies like our City Council,” Paco Cantu, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent, said at a recent live-streamed meeting, according to the newspaper.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
> Population, 2018: 560,234
> Police dept. funding as % of total budget, fiscal year 2020: 18.9% (15th largest out of 50 largest cities)
> Total police budget for fiscal 2020: $210 million (17th smallest)
> Total city budget for fiscal 2020: $1.11 billion (9th smallest)
> Law enforcement employees per 100K: N/A
> Total law enforcement employees: N/A
> Violent crimes reported per 100K in 2018: 1,365 (14th highest out of 634 cities of 65K +)

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller announced in June that the city is creating a new public safety department that will respond to nonemergency calls, like inebriation, homelessness, addiction, and mental health, The Washington Post reported. The department, called Albuquerque Community Safety, will employ unarmed social workers, housing and homelessness specialists, and violence prevention coordinators.

Albuquerque spends more than $300 million on public safety, two-thirds of which goes to the police department, The Post said. Police Chief Mike Geier said officers were “relieved” that some of their calls would become the responsibility of the new department. A federal monitor has been reviewing police operations since 2014 because of what the Department of Justice called “a culture of aggression.”

Source: Darren Hauck / Getty Images News via Getty Images

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
> Population, 2018: 592,002
> Police dept. funding as % of total budget, fiscal year 2020: 18.5% (17th largest out of 50 largest cities)
> Total police budget for fiscal 2020: $297 million (24th largest)
> Total city budget for fiscal 2020: $1.61 billion (23rd smallest)
> Law enforcement employees per 100K: 389 (25th highest out of 634 cities with 65K +)
> Total law enforcement employees: 2,305 (1,851 officers, 454 civilian employees)
> Violent crimes reported per 100K in 2018: 1,413 (11th highest out of 634 cities of 65K +)

The Milwaukee Common Council is looking into a 10% reduction in the police budget, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Eleven of the council’s 15 members have signed on to legislation directing the city’s budget director to create a draft budget for 2021 with the 10% cut. The lead sponsor of the measure, Alderman José Pérez, said the proposal was a response to protesters who have demanded change in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing by a Minneapolis police officer. The 2020 police budget of $297.4 million is by far the largest departmental budget in the city.