John W. Whitehead
August 6, 2013
Despite the steady hue and cry by government agencies about the need
for more police, more sophisticated weaponry, and the difficulties of
preserving the peace and maintaining security in our modern age, the
reality is far different. Indeed, violent crime in America has been on a
steady decline, and if current trends continue, Americans will finish
the year 2013 experiencing the lowest murder rate in over a century.
Despite this clear referendum on the fact that communities would be
better served by smaller, demilitarized police forces, police agencies
throughout the country are dramatically increasing in size and scope.
Some of the nation’s larger cities boast police forces the size of small
armies. (New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg actually likes to brag
that the NYPD is his personal army.) For example, the Los Angeles Police
Department (LAPD) has reached a total of 10,000 officers. It takes its
place alongside other cities boasting increasingly large police forces,
including New York (36,000 officers) and Chicago (13,400 officers). When
considered in terms of cops per square mile, Los Angeles assigns a
whopping 469 officers per square mile, followed by New York with 303 officers per square mile, and Chicago with 227 cops per square mile.
Of course, such heavy police presence comes at a price. Los Angeles
spends over $2 billion per year on the police force, a 36% increase
within the last eight years. The LAPD currently consumes over 55% of Los
Angeles’ discretionary budget, a 9% increase over the past nine years.
Meanwhile, street repair and maintenance spending has declined by 36%,
and in 2011, one-fifth of the city’s fire stations lost units,
increasing response times for 911 medical emergencies.
For those who want to credit hefty police forces for declining crime
rates, the data just doesn’t show a direct correlation. In fact, many
cities across the country actually saw decreases in crime rates during
the 1990s in the wake of increasing prison sentences and the waning
crack-cocaine epidemic. Cities such as Seattle and Dallas actually cut
their police forces during this time and still saw crime rates drop.
As I point out in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State,
there was a time in our nation’s history when Americans would have
revolted against the prospect of city police forces the size of small
armies, or rampaging SWAT teams tearing through doors and terrorizing
families. Today, the SWAT team is largely sold to the American public by
way of the media, through reality TV shows such as Cops, Armed and Famous, andPolice Women of Broward County,
and by politicians well-versed in promising greater security in
exchange for the government being given greater freedom to operate as it
sees fit outside the framework of the Constitution.