Wisconsin Taxpayer Magazine Investigating Local Law Enforcement

January 2014  •  Vol. 82 No. 1
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  • Summary
  • Press Release
  • In 2012, Wisconsin’s 297 individual and seven joint municipal police departments protected 3.8 million of Wisconsin’s 5.7 million residents. These departments employed an average of 2.03 full-time officers per 1,000 residents. Municipal spending on local law enforcement averaged $223 per capita in 2011. National figures show Wisconsin ranked 12th among the states in local law enforcement expenditures and 23rd in full-time officers per capita.

  • Stephanie Rubin or Todd A. Berry

    Wisconsin Ranked 12th in Per Capita Local Police Spending

    Local Law Enforcement Spending is Above National Average, Officer Count Below

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    MADISON—Wisconsin local governments ranked 12th of the 50 states in per capita police spending, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In full-time officers relative to population, however, Wisconsin ranked 23rd. A new report from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, "Investigating Local Law Enforcement," takes a closer look at how these numbers add up. WISTAX is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization devoted to public policy research and citizen education.

    Including both counties and municipalities, local government here spent $288 per capita on police in 2011, 7.2% more than the national average ($268). Yet, Wisconsin employed 1.94 full-time local officers per 1,000 residents in the following year, a figure below the national average (2.04).

    These statewide figures hide major variations in police spending and protection across municipalities. Municipalities provide protection in a variety of ways; some creating their own individual departments, some sharing joint departments, and others relying on the county sheriff for protection. Additionally, varying levels of crime, income, and economic activity lead to different levels of protection and spending.

    Wisconsin municipalities spent a total of $1.1 billion on law enforcement, and employed 7,662 full-time sworn officers. Of Wisconsin’s 1,850 towns, villages, and cities, 757 reported net law enforcement spending in 2011. Per capita expenditures ranged from practically nothing in several municipalities to $1,903 in Chenequa, a small Waukesha County village. Municipalities with the highest per capita expenditures were generally high-income areas, tourist hot spots, or Milwaukee suburbs.

    Law enforcement expenditures appear to depend less on population change than on rising costs of compensation and other expenses. The total population of municipalities with law enforcement expenditures was only 1.0% larger in 2011 than in 2006. Yet, total law enforcement spending increased 17.0% over the same time period. Expenditures rose even in municipalities with falling populations.

    While most of the state’s small municipalities (principally rural towns) rely on the county sheriff for law enforcement, 297 of Wisconsin’s 1,850 municipalities employ full-time officers through their own police departments. These individual police departments had an average of 2.03 full-time officers per 1,000 residents, ranging from 0.16 in the Town of Burlington to 13.7 in Chenequa. Municipalities with the most officers per capita were most often high-income communities and tourist destinations.

    Although municipal law enforcement spending has climbed steadily, officer counts have changed little. Over 40% of municipalities had the same number of officers in 2012 as in 2006. Another half gained or lost fewer than five officers. Less than 8% had more significant changes.

    Municipalities added a net total of 92 full-time officers to their payrolls between 2006 and 2012, an increase of 1.2%. However, total population in these communities grew 2.2% over the time period. Thus, the number of officers per 1,000 inhabitants fell slightly from 2.5 to 2.3.

    In addition to those with individual departments, 16 municipalities, home to over 72,000 Wisconsinites, provide police protection through joint departments. Compared to individual departments of similar sizes, joint departments spend less per capita, and employ fewer officers. Sauk Prairie ($170) spent the most per capita of the joint departments, but spent significantly less than similar-sized individual departments ($215). The Everest Metro Area department employed 1.4 officers per 1,000 people while individual departments of a similar size employed 1.7 officers.

    A free copy of The Wisconsin Taxpayer magazine, "Investigating Local Law Enforcement," is available by visiting www.wistax.org; emailing wistax@wistax.org; calling 608.241.9789; or writing WISTAX at 401 North Lawn Ave., Madison, WI 53704-5033.

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