National Police Week: Community Benefits of a Strong Police Force
- Each May, National Police Week honors America’s law enforcement members, especially those who have fallen in the line of duty.
- Lower crime and violence is a proven community benefit of having more police.
- Investing in local police forces is a practical way to reduce violence in areas like Atlanta and Columbus.
Every May, a week is designated as National Police Week to honor America’s law enforcement members, especially those officers who sacrificed their lives while serving their communities. Along with remembering these local heroes, Police Week is an opportunity to reflect on the role law enforcement has in building vibrant communities where everyone can achieve their potential.
The Community Benefit of More Police: Less Crime.
In 2020, 21% of U.S. residents had contact with the police, with most interactions relating to traffic stops or accidents, reporting of crimes, or seeking help with non-crime emergencies. Behind all of these interactions is a larger societal benefit of well-staffed, well-managed police forces: less violence.
Josh Crawford, GCO’s Director of Criminal Justice, notes: “Police are the element of the criminal justice system most visible to the public and the arm with which citizens are most likely to interact.”
That presence is key to discouraging crime and boosting people’s confidence in the safety of their communities. Over the past couple of decades, research has affirmed what many intuitively know—that having more police helps lower crime and violence.
- 2002: Criminologists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that “a 10 percent increase in police levels lowered crime rates by 1.4 percent over time.”
- 2004: Economist Steven D. Levitt examined data from 122 cities around the U.S. from 1975 to 1995 and found that increased police numbers brought down violent crime by 12 percent and property crime by eight percent.
- 2015: A Brennan Center for Justice report found that “increases in the number of police officers had a modest, downward effect on crime in the 1990s, likely between 0 and 10 percent.”
- 2018: 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.
Georgia’s Communities Have a Police Shortage Problem
Georgia is one of many states grappling with a shortage of police officers. Areas like Atlanta and Columbus in particular have struggled to recruit and retain enough officers, and communities are feeling the strain as violence rises and wait times increase for emergency responses.
According to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), police shortages have had three major drivers:
- Law enforcement agencies can’t hire enough officers. An April 2023 survey of police agencies found that “police agencies are losing officers faster than they can hire new ones.” The talent pool is also shrinking. Agencies have reported a noticeable decrease in the number of applicants for open positions.
- Officers are leaving before retirement age. Based on exit interview data available from police agencies, the top reason officers resign is to take another job in law enforcement. The second highest reason is to switch their career path altogether.
- More officers are approaching retirement. According to PERF’s survey data, approximately a quarter of U.S. police officers have reached retirement age or will be eligible to retire within the next three to five years.
Investing in Local Police Is Necessary for Growing Vibrant, Low-Crime Communities
According to Crawford, defunding or otherwise redirecting money away from local police is not the answer.
“Proponents of ‘defund the police’ are quick to point to the fact that the money taken from police agencies would be reallocated to a myriad of social programs and direct investment in underserved communities,” said Crawford. “Worthy as these individual programs and investments may be, there is no social program that can replicate the essential functions of policing.”
In 1995 and again in 2009, federal grants from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) helped state and local law enforcement agencies address officer recruitment and retention challenges. The track record of this funding was strong: Police hires increased, and crime went down. Various research on COPS funding suggests another grant round could help police agencies address today’s staffing shortages — as long as the funding is tied to increasing full-time, sworn officers within the specific departments receiving the grants.
Whether it’s at the federal level or efforts closer to home, we should direct resources to what we know serves our neighborhoods best. Communities benefit when they have more officers with more hours of better training, not fewer officers with less training.