What is the cost of police, really?
A recent study by RAND Corporation researchers examined the average amount of police spending on crimes for each state. Averaging the results across all states and considering where people live, the cost to respond to various crimes are:
- Homicide: $144,00-$177,000
- Rape/Sexual assault: $22,000-$27,000
- Aggravated assault: $9,100-$11,600
- Robbery: $2,500-$3,200
- Burglary: $1,300-$1,700
- Theft: $1,100-$1,400
- Motor vehicle theft: $850-$1,100
What is included in these cost estimates?
These estimates include the time spent by various officers and staff to respond to a crime. This may include activities like calling officers out to a scene, controlling a crime scene, investigations, filling out paperwork, conducting interrogations and arrests, and appearing in court.
The estimates also include equipment and supply costs, such as fuel for vehicles. Also included are things like administrative staff and utilities, and “fringe benefits” (e.g. health insurance). Self-directed retirement benefits are excluded (like contributions to a 401(k) or IRA).
The calculations include only the cost to respond to crimes. Police are involved in a lot of other activities to prevent crime and to address non-crime-related issues. For instance, they help with traffic and traffic accidents. They reach out to communities. They conduct patrol. None of those activities are included in these costs.
Why do costs vary across states?
The state-by-state results vary widely across the states, from a low of $86,070-$127,945 or murder in Michigan, to a high of $230,465-$445,651 for murder in Wyoming.
The results do not necessarily reflect on how much it should cost to fight crime. Just because it costs more in one state does not mean police are being wasteful, it could be that they are thorough. Similarly, a low-cost state may not be under-policing a crime: maybe they are more efficient with their resources.
How to use these estimates. These estimates are the cost to respond to a crime, but they also can be used to quantify the benefit, in freed up law enforcement resources, of preventing crime.
Hopefully, these estimates will be used to weigh costs and benefits, and to get a dialogue going on how best to use policing resources.
Read the full article ‘Estimates of Law Enforcement Costs by Crime Type for Benefit-Cost Analyses’ here
Priscillia Hunt is an economist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.