The Daily Burkeman1 had a post observing how many cops are around and BMan1 wonders how many is enough. Since I happened to be reading an excellent book on the topic, I posted the following comment.
Here are some quotes from “The Supply Side of the Political Market” in Bruce Benson’s “The Enterprise of Law”:
After an extensive study of police performance, Lawrence Sherman, director of the Police Foundation, concluded: “Instead of watching to prevent crime, motorized police patrol [is] a process of merely waiting to respond to crime.” Sherman noted that the budget process rewards those who successfully dispose of cases after crimes are committed more than with the questions of how many police are needed and how big the police budget should be. Of course, the answers to these questions depend on what police must do, so police lobby for more budget and personnel in order to reduce response time and catch more criminals. Efficiency considerations would dictate that the additional cost of such resources be justified by improved performance of at least equal value. Is this a valid assumption?
A 1976 study by the Police Foundation and the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice found that cutting response time by seconds or even minutes makes little difference in whether or not a criminal is apprehended. [...] Studies of police on duty have found that about half of an officer’s time is spent simply waiting for something to happen. Police officials claim that this time is spent in preventative patrolling, but systematic observation has discovered that such time is largely occupied with conversations with other officers, personal errands, and sitting in parked cares on side streets. [...]
[P]olice offcials contend that patrol cars should have two officers because they can more efficiently deal with criminal incidents and are less likely to be resisted or harmed. A year-long Police Foundation study of one- versus two-man patrol cars in San Diego, however, contradicts these claims. The report found “clearly and unequivocally it is more efficient, safer, and at least as effective for the plice to staff patrol cars with one officer.” [...] The primary differences were that two-man cars wrote several more traffic tickets, one-man cars received far fewer citizen complains, and one-man cars were far more cost effective. [...] Furthermore, there were fewer cases of resisting arrest and assaults on officers in one-man units than in two-man units.
Is increasing the size of the police buereaucracy likely to solve these problems? Consider the impact of increasing the size of the police department in New York City between 1940 and 1965. Over that twenty-five-year period, the number of police was increased from 16,000 to 24,000, but the total number of hours worked by the entire force actually declined. The 50 percent increase in personnel was more than offset by shorter hours, longer vacations, more holidays, more paid sick leave, and longer lunch periods.
On a vaguely related note, I’m also cackling at what happened to Spitzer. If it weren’t for all the measures taken against white-collar crime (his specialty) he might not have been caught. He’s a victim of idiotic laws against victimless-crimes that he didn’t have a problem enforcing against others. Prison is unnecessary as he’s no danger to anyone out on the street…provided he no longer has his position of power. UPDATE: Skip Oliva and Rich Nikoley dismiss libertarian objections to punishing Spitzer. I view punishment from a purely consequentialist angle and I don’t see how it would disincentivise his abuse of power rather than solicitation of prostitution. EDIT: Skip clarifies in the comments that he doesn’t want Spitzer prosecuted, just removed from his job, so it seems we have no disagreement. UPDATE: It seems Spitzer helped put in place some of the harshest anti-sex trade laws in the country. Sort-of-update: Looks like another enforcer of law has gotten caught with his dick in the cookie jar. Will Spengler claim vindication? UPDATE2: Mona, Carson and Greenwald on Spitzer at TAOTP. Reihan Salam in a diavlog on it here, citing some figures from Bradford Plumer. I rant a bit at Who is IOZ?