by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
Ever since the calls to “defund the police” began in 2020 after the death of George Floyd, I’ve been making the case for increased police spending so that we can deploy more active duty police officers on the streets in high-crime, high-disorder neighborhoods. I predicted—correctly—that the rioting and anti-police hysteria that followed Floyd’s death would lead to a spike in crime, and I argued that the best way to bring that crime wave under control would be to increase the number of active duty police officers on the streets.
A large and growing body of research clearly shows that police presence deters crime. Summarizing the best evidence available at that time, a 2016 Obama administration report stated:
Economic research has consistently shown that police reduce crime in communities, and most estimates show that investments in police reduce crime more effectively than either increasing incarceration or sentence severity. … This research shows that police reduce crime on average, and estimates of the impact of a 10 percent increase in police hiring lead to a crime decrease of approximately 3 to 10 percent, depending on the study and type of crime [and] that larger police forces do not reduce crime through simply arresting more people and increasing incapacitation, instead, investments in police are likely to make communities safer through deterring crime.
Discussing a set of more recent findings, the authors say:
We find that expanding police personnel leads to reductions in serious crime. 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.
It’s not rocket science. It’s a simple fact that can be summarized in four words: more cops, less crime. And yet, very few pundits and politicians have embraced increased police presence for what it is: an effective, efficient, and humane approach to crime control. Perhaps the cost is off-putting, which will no doubt be considerable. But it will be money well spent. The result will be, not just fewer crimes, including fewer homicides, but also safter, happier, more prosperous communities. What are we waiting for?
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