Police conduct has come under scrutiny in the past few years, especially during the earlier parts of the COVID-19 pandemic following the murder of George Floyd at the hand of police. At the same time, violent crime continued to climb, and nationwide there were debates over how much the government should spend, if at all, for policing. The state that spends the most on police is California. (See also, the worst year for murder in every state.)
There are at least two ways to look at how much money governments spend on police by state. The first is raw dollars. The larger states, as should be expected, spend the most money. California, the most populous state, spends $22.3 billion, the most of any state, according to Census Bureau’s 2020 State & Local Government Finance Historical Datasets and Tables. A much better means to look at police spending is by adjusting the expense for the population. By this measure, too, California spends the most of any state at $568 per resident.
Despite California spending the most money on police, that spending accounts for 3.3% of all state and local expenditures, only the 12th highest among states. California has 115,744 police officers, or 295 per 100,000 state residents, the eighth most of all states. Meanwhile, its violent crime rate is 16th highest, at 442 crimes per 100,000 people. (Interestingly, California is the state with the most people on death row.)
While these measures are helpful, they do not necessarily address the idea that perhaps governments should spend no money on police at all. Dismissed by elected officials across the political spectrum as an unworkable idea, the defund the police movement failed to gain meaningful traction with policy makers – many of whom have expressed support for police reform rather than complete disbandment.
In his 2022 State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden stated in no-uncertain terms: “We should all agree the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police… Fund them with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.”
The idea that there should be no money spent per citizen at all on policing, has lost whatever traction it briefly had. See 24/7 Wall St.’s list of states spending the most per person on police.
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