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Police Staffing in America’s 5 Largest Cities

How does Chicago rank amongst the top five cities in the US when it comes to officers and homicides?

FOP jpgCurrently, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) are arguing that Chicago is significantly understaffed compared to other cities. The results of the study we conducted fly in the face of that argument.   This is a second in a series of blogs offered to illuminate the public discussion around the staffing levels of the Chicago Police Department (CPD).  In this effort we take a look at how many officers Chicago has compared to the four other largest cities in the US

There are many factors that need to be taken into account when considering how a city should determine the total number of officers it should employ and how those officers should be deployed throughout the city.  Some of these factors include crime rates, level of violence, calls for police service, and response times to calls from the public for assistance.  The Chicago press is filled with conjecture and propaganda about how many officers Chicago should have based mostly on the figure of 13,500 officers that is stated in the CPD’s budget.  How the city got to this number is something of a mystery.  This point will be the topic of blog in the near future but suffice it to say the validity of this number as a current figure for proper police staffing is in serious question.

In order to determine the real number needed, there needs to be empirical research conducted based on the available data so that we can put an end to the propaganda being thrown around in the press and political grandstanding that has accompanied all the horrible reporting the last couple of years.  If the CPD has already had this research completed those report or reports should be released to the public.  If not, they should take the necessary steps to have the research completed and make the results public to inform the public discussion on this issue.

Our Independence: CJP being an independent arbiter of data and information is not taking a position on whether or not the CPD is understaffed or not.  We seek to push the discussion using data driven analysis rather than propaganda from the competing sides of the Mayor’s Office and the Fraternal Order of the Police.

The Data:

The data reported here has been collected from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports.  We calculate figures per 100,000 residents in each city.  Reliably determining the exact number of officers each city has not exactly been easy; we spent many months last year submitting requests under the each state’s Freedom of Information Act to get the numbers.  In the end, the figures each city presented varied from slightly to significantly off, thus we have decided to use the figures each agency reports to the FBI every year.  We are also using the population figures that the FBI uses and not the census numbers that are generated every ten years.



The results of the analysis clearly detail that, as of 2010, the City of Chicago has more police officers per 100,000 residents than any of the top four largest cities in the country.  It also shows that the CPD has been among the top two in officers per 100,000 residents since at least 1995, by a very large margin.  You can see that the Chicago hovers in the high to mid 400s for officers per 100,000 residents while Los Angeles (a city with a larger population) for the entire fifteen year period covered by the data hovers in the mid to high 200s.

The homicides analysis clearly shows a significant drop in homicides that each city experienced since 1995.  Chicago had the highest rate at beginning of the time period and sadly, despite the significant drop in homicides, Chicago maintains a homicide rate greater than the other cities.

CPD PatchDepending on which of these two analyses you want to use, you could make an argument for Chicago greatly reducing the number of officers it has to be on par with Los Angeles or possibly increasing the number of officers they currently have to impact homicides in Chicago.  This is the problem with the arguments put forth thus far in political speeches and through the media: they rely on a single statistic or source within the CPD as the basis for their point.  With the limited and biased analysis they are using, their arguments are shown to be shallow and without merit most of the time. However, this still does not stop the media from using these statistics as a basis for a nice splashy headline or the topic for an exposé on the nightly news.

The truth is that neither of the figures presented here are a good basis for arguing one way or the other.  The number of officers in other cities only slightly helps advance an argument one way or the other.  Homicides are a really bad statistic to use because police are supposed to prevent shootings, not homicides. Typically, the police have no impact on whether or not someone lives or dies after a gun is fired.  Now, as simple as this point is, trying to get this through to the Chicago media is a whole other challenge.

CJP will continue to provide data analysis to inform this public discussion in the coming weeks.  You can read the first part of this continuing series here:  Part I

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