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Who Needs Police? This Chart Shows What Happens When You Add 10 Officers to Your Community

Crime is a top issue for voters going into the midterms, but even firm advocates of “law and order” might not be familiar with the science of policing.

SO WHAT

Crime is an emotional issue, but addressing it requires cold, hard facts.

THE NUMBERS

A 2019 study examined crime levels across thousands of U.S. cities and towns before and after a $1 billion federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant to hire more police officers in 2009.

Researchers compared jurisdictions that received funds with those that didn’t, and calculated the precise amount of crime prevented by adding more police.

  • Titled “More COPS, Less Crime” and published in the Journal of Public Economics, the study revealed “large and statistically significant effects of police on robbery, larceny, and auto theft,” according to author Steven Mello, an economics professor at Dartmouth College.
  • Hiring ten police officers would also prevent 19 robberies and 51 auto thefts, and avert a total of around $3.5 million in victimization costs, estimated by previous studies at around $68,000 per violent crime and $4,000 per property crime, on average.
  • Another frequently cited study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, published in 2020, reached similar conclusions and noted that the impact is even greater in terms of preventing murders of minority victims: “With respect to homicide, we find that every 10-17 officers hired abate one new homicide per year. In per capita terms the effects are approximately twice as large for Black victims. In short, larger police forces save lives and the lives saved are disproportionately Black lives.”

BIG PICTURE

Amid protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020, many Democrats appeared to back the “Defund the Police” movement, but most have since pivoted to support increased funding for police as crime surged nationwide.

  • A series of national polls have shown that most Americans want their local policing to stay at its current level or to increase, including 81% of black Americans surveyed by Gallup in July 2020.
  • However, a majority of Americans also believe reforms to policing are necessary, with 50% calling for major reforms and 39% seeking minor changes, according to another Gallup poll conducted this spring.

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