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Government spending on police

State and local expenditures data from the BEA

As police presence, tactics, and department funding are being discussed, the FRED Blog offers some data to add to the conversation.

The graph above shows a category of government expenditures, “public order and safety,” as listed in the national income and product accounts from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. One series (in blue) is total government, and one series (in red) is state and local government.

These expenditures, which include both police and fire departments, are a small part of government spending, but they have continually grown. This isn’t surprising, as the data aren’t adjusted for inflation, population growth, or economic growth.

The second graph shows state and local expenditures specifically for police as a share of all state and local government expenses. For 2018, police expenditures were 4.79%, which is at the higher end of the range. The low, in 1980, was 4.25%.

How many people are in the police force? The Current Population Survey helps us here, making the distinction between those who patrol and those in supervision and detective roles. As of 2019, the total was 766,000, with a slight increase in the former and stable if not decreasing numbers in the latter. Note that these numbers include both public and private police forces.

This fourth graph shows how much police are paid. The Current Population Survey doesn’t provide averages, but rather medians: So, half are paid more and half are paid less than the values shown. These values aren’t inflation-adjusted and do not include benefits. Overtime pay is included, though.

The final graph is the same as the previous one, but the wages are adjusted for inflation. There’s quite a bit of fluctuation, likely due to changes in overtime. And there’s a slight upward trend, which can come from higher hourly pay, more overtime, or a combination of the two.

How these graphs were created: First graph: Search FRED for “public order and safety” and click on the series encompassing all government levels. From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab to search for and select the state and local government series with the same keywords. Second graph: Start with the graph for state and local police expenses. From the “Edit Graph” panel, add a series through the “Customize data” search bar (different from the Add Line tab): Search for and select state and local government expenses and apply formula a/b*100. Third graph: Search for “employed police” and select the series. Fourth graph: Search for “median police earnings” and select the series. Fifth graph: Start with the fourth graph. Use “Customize data” to add the CPI for both series and apply the formula a/b/*255.651 (the last number being the average value of the CPI in 2019).

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CPIAUCSL, G160081A027NBEA, G160841A027NBEA, G160851A027NBEA, LEU0254491000A, LEU0254491900A, LEU0254544400A, LEU0254545300A, SLEXPND

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