Simply hiring more police cannot solve Cleveland’s crime problems

brelo protest

A protester stands before riot police in May, 2015, on the night of the protests over the acquittal of Michael Brelo (courtesy of Sam Allard/Cleveland Scene).

This year’s mayoral election in Cleveland has shaped up as a contentious race.

There are a number of major issues at stake. Should we trust Frank Jackson, a man who doesn’t seem particularly enthused with his job as the first four-term Mayor in Cleveland history? How should we balance development in downtown with that in the City’s neighborhoods? Should we continue to commit tax dollars to megaprojects, like the renovation of The Q? How can we begin to bring down Cleveland’s incredible high infant mortality rate? How should we address the disturbingly high levels of lead poisoning among Cleveland children, particularly children of color? Will we ever actually stem our ongoing population loss? Can a Mayor really do much of anything to improve fortunes in the Most Distressed City in America?

The debate over more police

But, in municipal elections, as in local news, if it bleeds, it leads. Zack Reed, the longtime City Councilman and Mayoral hopeful, managed to finish second in the nonpartisan primary, putting him into a runoff with Mayor Jackson next month.

Councilman Reed has focused almost exclusively on public safety and the City’s violent crime issues. Last year, there were 136 homicides in Cleveland, a 13% increase over the 120 homicides that occurred 2015. This number, in turn, was up from 102 in 2014. Cleveland is one of the handful of large cities that have seen a noticeable spike in violent crime, running counter to trend we had seen over the past few decades.

Reed’s campaign slogan is “Safety First!” and his social media feed largely consists of a series of headlines and tables documenting the ever increasing number of homicides in Cleveland. The Councilman, who has previously called for bringing stop and frisk to Cleveland, has made hiring 400 new Cleveland police officers the central plank of his campaign. To hear the Councilman tell it, the only thing that can stop these bad guys with guns is a whole lot more good guys in blue with guns and badges.

Mayor Jackson, for his part, has largely slow walked the violent crime issue, perhaps cognizant of the fact that he is overseeing a Police Department going through yet another consent decree for what the Obama era Justice Department termed “a pattern or practice of the use of excessive
force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

The Mayor has taken some notable steps to address violence in recent months, including deploying “violence interrupters” to local hospitals, creating a new anti-gang unit, and partnering with the FBI on cold cases.

But, in recent weeks, Jackson has begun to take on his challenger over public safety issues. The Mayor has chided Councilman Reed for not identifying how he would pay for 400 more officers; all the while, Jackson has called for adding 300 new officers by 2020.

Yet, there are some key questions that we have not been asked in all of this back-and-forth on policing – does Cleveland really need hundreds of new police officers? Is the City really significantly understaffed, either in relation to other cities or to previous years? And even if we did have a shortage, would hiring more officers really reduce the amount of crime in Cleveland?

Cleveland does not have a clear shortage of police officers

Given the lack of trust between CPD and Clevelanders, particularly in communities of color, it seems questionable whether more officers is either necessary or sufficient to the task at hand.

If, like me, you subscribe to the thesis which Jill Leovy laid out in her masterpiece Ghettoside – namely, that aggressive policing of communities of color does nothing to lower crime rates, and cities need to prioritize solving violent crimes in order to prevent new ones – then the solution our candidates are presenting may not be an appropriate one.

To explore this issue, I decided to dig through the data in the FBI’s 2016 Crime in the U.S. report, which includes crime and policing statistics for nearly every city in the country.

I wanted to consider a handful of interrelated questions. First, does Cleveland actually have fewer police officers than other cities? Second, is there a relationship between the number of police and crime rates in American cities? And third, how has the number of police related to crime rates in Cleveland over the past two decades? For this latter question, I also pulled Cleveland’s CIUS data from 1995-2016, excepting 2014 and 2015, when the City did not report data to the Bureau.

I grabbed data for all cities with more than 75,000 people (I was going to analyze all cities over 50,000, but there are 281 cities with between 50,000 and 75,000 people, and I just got tired of coding). The data are displayed in the table below.

CityStatePopulationTotal law enforcement employeesTotal officersTotal civilians Total per 10,000 Officers per 10,000
WashingtonDC681,1704,3523,75359963.8955.10
ChicagoIL2,725,15313,13511,954118148.2043.87
Miami BeachFL93,1654923949852.8142.29
New YorkNY8,566,91751,39936,2281517160.0042.29
BaltimoreMD618,3852,9082,51239647.0340.62
PhiladelphiaPA1,570,8267,9956,313168250.9040.19
NewarkNJ281,4501,3831,11327049.1439.55
St. LouisMO314,5071,6321,19443851.8937.96
ClevelandOH386,2271,6781,44423443.4537.39
AtlantaGA472,5792,1401,69444645.2835.85
RochesterNY209,64386474711741.2135.63
CincinnatiOH298,8801,2921,05124143.2335.16
DetroitMI669,6732,8552,35050542.6335.09
New HavenCT130,4255094545539.0334.81
AlbanyNY98,6174333369743.9134.07
Jersey CityNJ266,1791,27986541448.0532.50
HartfordCT123,7364303983234.7532.17
CharlestonSC135,15353043010039.2131.82
BostonMA673,8802,6782,12555339.7431.53
MilwaukeeWI600,1932,3281,88943938.7931.47
RichmondVA222,43080268012236.0630.57
YonkersNY202,0756966138334.4430.34
MemphisTN656,4342,3851,97840736.3330.13
PittsburghPA302,4439769086832.2730.02
North CharlestonSC110,4903943276735.6629.60
New OrleansLA397,2081,4031,17123235.3229.48
TrentonNJ83,64438124613545.5529.41
NorfolkVA245,7348117189333.0029.22
SyracuseNY143,9254844156933.6328.83
Kansas CityMO478,3641,8751,35651939.2028.35
KalamazooMI76,3892592164333.9128.28
Baton RougeLA228,38981464117335.6428.07
Fort LauderdaleFL181,21866250815436.5328.03
TuscaloosaAL99,9253522747835.2327.42
SpringfieldMA154,10252341910433.9427.19
New BedfordMA94,5242972554231.4226.98
BuffaloNY257,44690069320734.9626.92
HammondIN77,0052342072730.3926.88
MiamiFL449,4691,5591,20135834.6926.72
ShreveportLA196,46771152418736.1926.67
Little RockAR198,80063952511432.1426.41
San FranciscoCA871,1552,8922,29659633.2026.36
PatersonNJ147,2654783839532.4626.01
HuntsvilleAL192,58760650010631.4725.96
OrlandoFL277,71991571520032.9525.75
West Palm BeachFL108,0743652788733.7725.72
BridgeportCT148,1804333765729.2225.37
TampaFL375,9041,21295126132.2425.30
MontgomeryAL199,56561450311130.7725.20
ColumbiaSC134,4894243388631.5325.13
WaterburyCT108,4913162724429.1325.07
CambridgeMA111,0303222774529.0024.95
DallasTX1,320,9393,8293,27955028.9924.82
Fall RiverMA88,3712652184729.9924.67
RacineWI77,5362151912427.7324.63
Los AngelesCA4,007,90512,6929,850284231.6724.58
RoanokeVA99,9782922454729.2124.51
ChattanoogaTN177,8015234348929.4124.41
PortsmouthVA95,8133122318132.5624.11
JacksonMS170,07064140923237.6924.05
Lake CharlesLA76,864186183324.2023.81
Savannah-Chatham MetropolitanGA241,29682157025134.0223.62
South BendIN101,6212842404427.9523.62
GreensboroNC288,61878668110527.2323.60
ProvidenceRI179,3405114238828.4923.59
WorcesterMA184,5954854355026.2723.57
EvansvilleIN119,9083052812425.4423.43
Fort MyersFL76,5792381795931.0823.37
GainesvilleFL131,2423602996127.4322.78
AkronOH197,2574844493524.5422.76
ElizabethNJ129,0963882939530.0622.70
Newport NewsVA181,67654741013730.1122.57
QuincyMA93,4372382102825.4722.48
Salt Lake CityUT193,91854243510727.9522.43
LakelandFL105,76635323711633.3822.41
Kansas CityKS151,6234253398628.0322.36
AshevilleNC89,5462632006329.3722.33
HoustonTX2,334,3486,6325,182145028.4122.20
TopekaKS127,1663342825226.2622.18
WilmingtonNC117,8523312607128.0922.06
Winston-SalemNC243,50769953616328.7122.01
EvanstonIL75,7162271666129.9821.92
FayettevilleNC202,20060144215929.7221.86
Santa MonicaCA93,92137420417039.8221.72
LowellMA111,0273362399730.2621.53
BeaumontTX118,2833172546326.8021.47
LynchburgVA80,2151981722624.6821.44
ToledoOH278,3666525926023.4221.27
DenverCO699,2591,7991,48331625.7321.21
St. PetersburgFL259,51075954821129.2521.12
BaytownTX77,2242351637230.4321.11
ManchesterNH110,3532882315726.1020.93
Nashville MetropolitanTN668,6851,7081,39831025.5420.91
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police DepartmentNV1,592,1784,8553,326152930.4920.89
LongviewTX82,6321861721422.5120.82
SpringfieldIL116,5632682412722.9920.68
St. PaulMN303,92079662716926.1920.63
JonesboroAR75,2301821552724.1920.60
SuffolkVA88,3422431826127.5120.60
StamfordCT130,1163152674824.2120.52
HonoluluHI995,5722,5372,04249525.4820.51
WarwickRI81,4812181675126.7520.50
SpringfieldMO168,3074183447424.8420.44
AlexandriaVA155,3194093179226.3320.41
MinneapolisMN416,7511,01884717124.4320.32
ClearwaterFL113,90435223112130.9020.28
KnoxvilleTN186,5834653778824.9220.21
HamptonVA135,50439327112229.0020.00
DearbornMI94,6462461895725.9919.97
JacksonvilleFL880,5572,9471,758118933.4719.96
LafayetteLA128,9233152575824.4319.93
High PointNC111,4352682224624.0519.92
KenoshaWI99,954208199920.8119.91
NorwalkCT88,9892171774024.3919.89
TempeAZ178,65449335513827.6019.87
MobileAL249,92173649624029.4519.85
SeattleWA700,3131,9461,38456227.7919.76
NashuaNH88,2522351746126.6319.72
Boynton BeachFL75,1412021485426.8819.70
BrocktonMA95,1892081872121.8519.65
Santa FeNM84,6632131664725.1619.61
LynnMA92,4432001811921.6319.58
RockfordIL147,3633232883521.9219.54
Charlotte-MecklenburgNC896,3792,3021,74355925.6819.44
TallahasseeFL191,5644373726522.8119.42
GreenvilleNC91,7662221784424.1919.40
ScrantonPA77,3321701502021.9819.40
HooverAL85,6012271656226.5219.28
Boca RatonFL94,93128718210530.2319.17
Clarkstown TownNY82,1711811572422.0319.11
Hamilton Township, Mercer CountyNJ88,6652051693623.1219.06
Wichita FallsTX104,6852841998527.1319.01
Woodbridge TownshipNJ102,1242521945824.6819.00
New RochelleNY80,3892111525926.2518.91
AustinTX956,9112,3611,80755424.6718.88
MadisonWI252,13658047610423.0018.88
MelbourneFL80,9002111525926.0818.79
IndianapolisIN866,3511,8061,61219420.8518.61
DurhamNC263,71667949018925.7518.58
ConcordNC89,4461941662821.6918.56
SunriseFL94,4002311755624.4718.54
ClarksvilleTN152,5263482826622.8218.49
McAllenTX142,22740826214628.6918.42
TulsaOK405,74891274716522.4818.41
Athens-Clarke CountyGA123,9342922286423.5618.40
Fort WorthTX851,8492,0071,56644123.5618.38
AuroraCO366,47781067014022.1018.28
AllentownPA120,6152402202019.9018.24
LaredoTX259,3255464737321.0518.24
ReadingPA87,8341821602220.7218.22
CranstonRI81,1621761472921.6918.11
TylerTX105,0442381904822.6618.09
WacoTX133,7903342419324.9618.01
YumaAZ94,6962581708827.2517.95
Green BayWI105,4522281893921.6217.92
DavieFL102,6922481846424.1517.92
SpringdaleAR79,2882001425825.2217.91
CiceroIL83,8071761502621.0017.90
OmahaNE446,16392679812820.7517.89
JolietIL147,8863302636722.3117.78
Las CrucesNM102,3492561827425.0117.78
PuebloCO109,9272501955522.7417.74
Toms River TownshipNJ90,5041871602720.6617.68
OaklandCA424,9981,04675029624.6117.65
KilleenTX143,24835325210124.6417.59
MissionTX84,3801931484522.8717.54
PlantationFL94,0752521658726.7917.54
PhoenixAZ1,586,6113,7062,76294423.3617.41
Oklahoma CityOK641,6811,3811,11326821.5217.35
PasadenaTX154,6483452687722.3117.33
Mount PleasantSC84,2771671462119.8217.32
LawtonOK96,4202351676824.3717.32
DuluthMN86,0901831493421.2617.31
GlendaleAZ242,93854241912322.3117.25
Edison TownshipNJ102,6792261774922.0117.24
LargoFL81,4021821404222.3617.20
Virginia BeachVA453,01795177917220.9917.20
EverettWA108,9882261873920.7417.16
AmarilloTX200,1414113436820.5417.14
DanburyCT85,335151146517.6917.11
EriePA99,0191911692219.2917.07
LakewoodCO154,55341726315426.9817.02
WaukeganIL88,3371891503921.4016.98
BryanTX83,2861781413721.3716.93
Long BeachCA476,4761,17380636724.6216.92
MesaAZ478,2771,22180441725.5316.81
MurfreesboroTN129,7302672184920.5816.80
CliftonNJ86,3241781453320.6216.80
Sugar LandTX90,0881751512419.4316.76
NewtonMA89,1161951494621.8816.72
ScottsdaleAZ240,88563340123226.2816.65
ChesapeakeVA236,57050138711421.1816.36
PasadenaCA143,28835723412324.9116.33
St. JosephMO76,5771691254422.0716.32
LansingMI115,1992131882518.4916.32
Cedar RapidsIA131,1812802146621.3416.31
TucsonAZ533,6631,16887029821.8916.30
EdinburgTX86,5351951415422.5316.29
Des MoinesIA211,50144634310321.0916.22
Cheektowaga TownNY78,1001621263620.7416.13
ElginIL112,8862461826421.7916.12
BoulderCO109,1892671769124.4516.12
PharrTX77,7441641253921.0916.08
TacomaWA209,9143713363517.6716.01
Newport BeachCA87,4822281408826.0616.00
LawrenceMA80,6221471291818.2316.00
RichmondCA110,8682421776521.8315.96
Fort SmithAR88,5731891414821.3415.92
San AngeloTX101,8701931623118.9515.90
BloomingtonIL78,6041611253620.4815.90
LawrenceKS95,1491841513319.3415.87
RaleighNC460,59387572914619.0015.83
SomervilleMA80,8991421271517.5515.70
IndependenceMO117,3352571847321.9015.68
WichitaKS391,39979461218220.2915.64
InglewoodCA112,0592191754419.5415.62
LivoniaMI94,2261861473919.7415.60
LubbockTX252,90052639213420.8015.50
DavenportIA103,1181781582017.2615.32
Upper Darby TownshipPA82,8961451261917.4915.20
WestminsterCO114,5142471747321.5715.19
Santa BarbaraCA92,5192051406522.1615.13
Deerfield BeachFL80,7131321221016.3515.12
Sioux CityIA82,8191501252518.1115.09
MesquiteTX145,7863002188220.5814.95
AvondaleAZ81,6051831226122.4314.95
OgdenUT85,9301561282818.1514.90
YakimaWA94,1111831404319.4514.88
El PasoTX687,1931,2361,01322317.9914.74
RoswellGA95,6841961415520.4814.74
OntarioCA172,6063392548519.6414.72
Coral SpringsFL131,1592901939722.1114.71
LongmontCO93,2682041376721.8714.69
BurbankCA105,7202341548022.1314.57
FayettevilleAR84,7261691234619.9514.52
Lee's SummitMO95,8211931395420.1414.51
MiramarFL140,2882722036919.3914.47
WarrenMI135,6202351963917.3314.45
NormanOK122,1432371766119.4014.41
San AntonioTX1,498,6422,8192,15266718.8114.36
SpokaneWA214,0284003079318.6914.34
PearlandTX112,8142151615419.0614.27
BerkeleyCA122,6512631758821.4414.27
FresnoCA524,7961,01374826519.3014.25
Palm BayFL108,8232121555719.4814.24
Arlington HeightsIL76,0771361082817.8814.20
GreeleyCO102,4911961455119.1214.15
Rio RanchoNM95,4542331359824.4114.14
PortlandOR642,1291,15090824217.9114.14
LewisvilleTX105,7622191497020.7114.09
Grand RapidsMI196,5383352765917.0514.04
TorranceCA149,07830920810120.7313.95
Colorado SpringsCO464,11392464527919.9113.90
West ValleyUT137,5582311914016.7913.89
Colonie TownNY80,0751501113918.7313.86
AuburnWA78,4001281082016.3313.78
IrvingTX240,76548233015220.0213.71
RichardsonTX113,2162481559321.9113.69
BeavertonOR97,9071711343717.4713.69
ChampaignIL87,0711411192216.1913.67
WhittierCA87,8601671204719.0113.66
GarlandTX238,85945432612819.0113.65
Sioux FallsSD175,1522762393715.7613.65
O'FallonMO86,0931511173417.5413.59
SunnyvaleCA154,1082782096918.0413.56
BloomingtonMN87,1341481183016.9913.54
Corpus ChristiTX327,94862544418119.0613.54
Grand PrairieTX190,27038425712720.1813.51
Federal WayWA96,3381591302916.5013.49
Missouri CityTX75,6071311022917.3313.49
ArvadaCO117,1862151585718.3513.48
OdessaTX123,2092201665417.8613.47
LovelandCO76,9361491034619.3713.39
StocktonCA308,34861041219819.7813.36
BillingsMT111,4471761482815.7913.28
Round RockTX119,3082271586919.0313.24
FargoND121,2171831602315.1013.20
ThorntonCO136,4512451806517.9613.19
SacramentoCA495,47195465230219.2513.16
BrownsvilleTX185,58335424411019.0813.15
BellinghamWA86,0051741136120.2313.14
MidlandTX137,7802391815817.3513.14
St. GeorgeUT81,7551551074818.9613.09
EdmondOK91,8691581193917.2012.95
Brooklyn ParkMN79,8001331033016.6712.91
Pembroke PinesFL169,1562982188017.6212.89
Overland ParkKS189,1042982435515.7612.85
San DiegoCA1,413,4142,5221,81570717.8412.84
Broken ArrowOK108,0881881385017.3912.77
HillsboroOR104,4401851335217.7112.73
RenoNV244,5543753116415.3312.72
Port St. LucieFL182,3652892296015.8512.56
Fort CollinsCO164,6702922068617.7312.51
ColumbiaMO121,1431821503215.0212.38
MedfordOR80,7941371003716.9612.38
ChandlerAZ265,92249732916818.6912.37
Amherst TownNY120,4361791493014.8612.37
BoiseID220,7493632729116.4412.32
BellevueWA142,2382151754015.1212.30
Cape CoralFL179,6313062218517.0312.30
CentennialCO111,4791711373415.3412.29
ChinoCA87,0811591075218.2612.29
Farmington HillsMI81,6491371003716.7812.25
NampaID91,5201671125518.2512.24
OlatheKS135,9771941662814.2712.21
TroyMI83,7431491024717.7912.18
PlanoTX288,24251235016217.7612.14
RochesterMN113,3061931375617.0312.09
Lakewood TownshipNJ100,2691531213215.2612.07
HaywardCA161,12231019411619.2412.04
DentonTX134,0542171615616.1912.01
HendersonNV291,58458835023820.1712.00
AnchorageAK299,09749735614116.6211.90
AllenTX101,0201791205917.7211.88
Sandy SpringsGA107,6851441271713.3711.79
College StationTX110,7851871305716.8811.73
GoodyearAZ82,018132963616.0911.70
LincolnNE281,13846532713816.5411.63
El CajonCA104,4831791215817.1311.58
ConcordCA129,9032011505115.4711.55
AnaheimCA353,50456240815415.9011.54
SandyUT94,6011431093415.1211.52
OceansideCA177,3402782047415.6811.50
RentonWA101,9081461172914.3311.48
WyomingMI75,917102871513.4411.46
GlendaleCA202,9033282329616.1711.43
SalemOR166,50831219012218.7411.41
EugeneOR164,88332318813519.5911.40
KennewickWA79,837106911513.2811.40
VenturaCA110,2281651254014.9711.34
SparksNV97,2691561104616.0411.31
League CityTX101,4361561144215.3811.24
North Las VegasNV238,55441426814617.3511.23
Santa ClaraCA128,1792151447116.7711.23
CaryNC164,8352231853813.5311.22
McKinneyTX169,6892341894513.7911.14
VancouverWA174,9122351934213.4411.03
GreshamOR111,4911531223113.7210.94
Sterling HeightsMI132,5231651452012.4510.94
OxnardCA209,04833722711016.1210.86
HialeahFL239,4513242606413.5310.86
KentWA128,6041881394914.6210.81
RiversideCA325,89650335015315.4310.74
MercedCA83,106125893615.0410.71
ReddingCA91,918131983314.2510.66
TustinCA81,642131874416.0510.66
MilpitasCA79,990109852413.6310.63
Ann ArborMI117,6881511252612.8310.62
KirklandWA88,627130943614.6710.61
Iowa CityIA75,527103802313.6410.59
San MateoCA104,8021481113714.1210.59
FlintMI97,5481171031411.9910.56
Spokane ValleyWA95,923102101110.6310.53
PeoriaAZ174,7972751849115.7310.53
Mountain ViewCA81,726129864315.7810.52
Huntington BeachCA204,07133421412016.3710.49
Redwood CityCA87,046116912513.3310.45
Santa MariaCA106,2001661115515.6310.45
BakersfieldCA378,78853039014013.9910.30
VisaliaCA131,1862001356515.2510.29
Ramapo TownNY92,620117952212.6310.26
Greece TownNY96,97510599610.8310.21
EscondidoCA152,8972111565513.8010.20
FriscoTX162,9172471668115.1610.19
AlamedaCA79,597110812913.8210.18
VacavilleCA97,671150995115.3610.14
RialtoCA103,8931421053713.6710.11
OrangeCA141,8412131437015.0210.08
ModestoCA212,8803002148614.0910.05
Citrus HeightsCA87,811134884615.2610.02
PomonaCA154,10926115410716.949.99
FairfieldCA114,5211691145514.769.95
LivermoreCA89,553133894414.859.94
LaytonUT75,482107753214.189.94
Union CityCA75,501104752913.779.93
FullertonCA141,9682101416914.799.93
WestlandMI81,625107812613.119.92
San BernardinoCA217,30336021514516.579.89
West JordanUT113,5951461123412.859.86
HawthorneCA89,299136884815.239.85
Costa MesaCA113,8161721126015.119.84
San LeandroCA91,870131904114.269.80
MeridianID94,113115922312.229.78
AlhambraCA86,035125844114.539.76
Santa RosaCA176,3832511727914.239.75
BendOR89,244115872812.899.75
SurpriseAZ130,6791811275413.859.72
TracyCA87,844126854114.349.68
Buena ParkCA83,768121814014.449.67
Simi ValleyCA127,2521771225513.919.59
CoronaCA166,5342251586713.519.49
PleasantonCA81,464110773313.509.45
ClovisCA105,8651621006215.309.45
ChicoCA91,122137865115.039.44
RosevilleCA132,5661831255813.809.43
PlymouthMN76,99688721611.439.35
Daly CityCA107,6401331003312.369.29
Clinton TownshipMI100,51410293910.159.25
DowneyCA114,7041501064413.089.24
El MonteCA117,3541521084412.959.20
Santa AnaCA337,41952331021315.509.19
Canton TownshipMI89,861119823713.249.13
FolsomCA77,24595702512.309.06
Garden GroveCA176,2302181595912.379.02
San JoseCA1,041,8441,35293941312.989.01
VallejoCA122,2931501104012.278.99
UplandCA76,95696692712.478.97
CarlsbadCA115,0401501034713.048.95
ProvoUT115,7391491034612.878.90
OremUT95,640116853112.138.89
GilbertAZ255,89934122711413.338.87
FontanaCA209,5312751859013.128.83
West CovinaCA108,950156936314.328.54
WestminsterCA92,582115793612.428.53
Johns CreekGA84,629817299.578.51
NapaCA81,115110694113.568.51
AntiochCA112,090123952810.978.48
San RamonCA76,90181651610.538.45
SalinasCA158,7291911345712.038.44
Shelby TownshipMI78,42785661910.848.42
Baldwin ParkCA77,40098653312.668.40
Chula VistaCA270,1753052258011.298.33
South GateCA96,791118793912.198.16
MurrietaCA111,043128893911.538.01
IrvineCA266,6633012138811.297.99
MantecaCA77,10486592711.157.65
FremontCA235,88128218010211.967.63
Elk GroveCA169,7422111288312.437.54
HemetCA84,83892623010.847.31
IndioCA89,20199633611.107.06

As you can see, Cleveland does not have an abnormally low number of either police officers or total police personnel; far from it. The city has 37.39 officers and 43.45 total personnel per 10,000 residents, which are the ninth and 13th most among all cities that reported data to the FBI during 2016, respectively.

Below, I charted the relationship between population and police officers for the cities included in the dataset. Based upon this relationship, I was then able to calculate the number of police officers we would expect a city of Cleveland’s size to have.

population & police

Relationship between population and the number of police officers in cities with more than 75,000 people during 2016.

For Cleveland, a city with 386,227 people, we would expect there to be 1,045 police officers. If we removed New York City (that dot in the far, upper right hand corner), whose 36,228 officers make it an extreme outlier (more than 18 standard deviations above the mean), that expected number of police in Cleveland drops to 860.4.

In other words, Cleveland has at least 27.6% more police than we would expect for a city of its size, based only on population. (That increases is 40.4% sans New York.) These numbers suggest that Cleveland is not currently facing a major shortage of police, at least relative to other American cities.

As I noted earlier, Councilman Reed and Mayor Jackson have called for adding an additional 400 and 300 police officers, respectively. In these scenarios, Cleveland would have 47.74 and 45.15 police per 10,000 residents, which would put the City in second only to Washington, DC.

In 2017, the city has budgeted $199,579,996 for the Division of Police, up from $190,616,127 last year (see page 258). These values account for 32.9% and 34.3% of the total budget, respectively, making policing the biggest expenditure in the city. According to the administration, adding and individual officer costs $104,000 per year, meaning that the proposals on the table could add $31.2-41.6 million more to the city’s expenses. For the sake of comparison, even the lower number would cover the entire budget for Emergency Medical Services or the Division of Waste Disposal.

What else could we do with $30 million to reduce crime and improve Clevelanders’ quality of life?

More police does not equal less crime in cities

Now, it’s possible, in theory, that hiring more police is the right approach to reducing the homicide and violent crime rates in Cleveland. But while politicians, commentators, and certain residents may like to scream MOAR POLICE as the panacea to what ails your city, this is a highly contentious and contested topic. I don’t pretend to be a sociologist or criminologist, so I won’t try to lay out the entire debate here.

However, we can study the relationship between the number of police personnel and crime rates, using data on reported crimes during 2016 from the FBI report.

Accordingly, I ran correlations between three independent variables – population (which I logged to normalize), total law enforcement employees per 10,000 residents, and police officers per 10,000 residents – and three dependent variables – violent crime rate, murder rate, and property crime rate. Results are shown below.

2016 police crime correlations

As the results in “Beta” and “Change” columns show, neither the number of total law enforcement personnel nor the number of police officers correlate with lower crime rates; on the contrary, they are associated with significantly higher violent crime, homicide, and property crime rates.

It’s worth noting that logged population is also correlated with higher crime rates, which suggests that, as one would expect, larger cities tend to have more crime. But the relationship between population and violent crime and murder rates is far less strong than the relationship between either law enforcement employees or police officers.

The one area where the relationship between population and crime rates is stronger is with property crime, which makes intuitive sense, as most property crimes are crimes of opportunity.

Now, it’s worth taking these results with several grains of salt.

First, as the kids say, correlation is not causation. I failed to control for any number of variables that can affect crime rates, from gun control to drug abuse to poverty and unemployment rates. It’s always possible to get some crazy spurious correlations. Second, as I already mentioned, this is not my area of expertise, so I urge you not to read too much into this. Third, it’s possible that there could be an observation bias at play here. The number of crimes made known to police could well increase as the number of police goes up.

That said, the direction of the correlations is consistent, and they are fairly strong, at least for violent crime and murder rates. This should at least throw some cold water on the notion that all we need to solve crime is more police.

More police does not stem violence in Cleveland, either

But, as with everything, averages are just collections of extremes, so it’s always worth digging into specific cases. Cleveland has its own unique set of challenges, from persistent population loss to extremely poverty to a prolonged housing crisis to opioid addiction.

So I decided to look at the number of law enforcement personnel and crime rates in Cleveland over time. FBI statistics are available for City from 1995 to 2016, with the exceptions of 2014 and 2015, when the City did not report data.

Over that span, the number of police officers in the City did decline, from an average of 1,821 from 1995-1999 to an average of 1,522 from 2009-2013 to 1,444 last year. But total population has also declined by more than 100,000 people over this timeframe, meaning that the number of police officers per 10,000 residents has not really deviated much, as the chart below shows.

In fact, Cleveland had more police per 10,000 residents in 2016 than it did in 10 of the 20 years included in the sample.

police per 10k cleveland

The number of police officers per 10,000 residents in Cleveland from 1995-2016.

Much like I did for the national sample, I looked at the correlations police and crime rates in Cleveland over the past two decades. But, because Cleveland is one city, I decided to look at raw numbers for law enforcement personnel, police officers, violent crimes, murders, and property crimes. The correlations are below.

cleveland police crime correlations

It appears that the total number of law enforcement personnel is related to an increase in the number of violent crimes, a relationship that is statistically significant. The number of police officers is correlated to a slightly lower increase, but this relationship is only significant at the 10% level.

Both the number of total law enforcement employees and the number of police are related to a decrease in the number of murders in Cleveland, but neither correlation is statistically significant. This outcome may be due to the relatively small sample size.

Lastly, both total employees and police are strongly correlated with the number of property crimes, and both correlations are strong significant. Perhaps this is due to the reporting bias that I noted earlier?

We need to move beyond the search for easy answers

Ultimately, while the same caveats hold here as for the national sample, the Cleveland-specific data casts further doubt on the idea that simply hiring more police will drive down crime rates. If anything, my results support the recommendations of groups like Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero, which have called for scaling back aggressive, militarized policing, particularly in communities of color.

Every interaction between police and people of color over minor infractions like broken tail lights or jaywalking is an opportunity for an interaction to turn violent or even deadly. The Moar Police movement has yet to address this risk in any comprehensive way.

A recent study in the journal Nature Human Behavior provides evidence on this issue.

It examined rates of major crimes in New York City neighborhoods after New York police significantly curtailed their active policing in late 2014/early 2015. This shock occurred in the wake of a grand jury refusing to indict the officers involved in the death of Eric Garner. The authors found that, during the slowdown, citizens reported 2,100 fewer major crime complaints. Additionally, they note that the results were not solely due to under-reporting of crimes.

As the authors conclude,

It is well established that proactive policing is deployed disproportionately across communities, and that areas with high concentrations of poverty and people of colour are more likely to be targeted. Our results imply not only that these tactics fail at their stated objective of reducing major legal violations, but also that the initial deployment of proactive policing can inspire additional crimes that later provide justification for further increasing police stops, summonses and so on. The vicious feedback between proactive policing and major crime can exacerbate political and economic inequality across communities.

Ultimately, the weight of the evidence suggests that hiring hundreds of more police officers will do nothing to alleviate Cleveland’s crime woes; on the contrary, it could even exacerbate them.

None of this should be taken to say that police don’t play an important and personally dangerous role in securing our communities. Police officers are a necessary but, clearly, insufficient tool in a much broader toolkit to combat crime.

Obviously much of the impetus for deploying more police is coming from residents themselves, including those in communities of color struggling with rising crime rates. But we should expect our elected officials to make decisions that are in the best interest of their constituents and are based on evidence, not fear mongering.

For too long, Cleveland has been led by officials who mirror the pathologies of her institutions, rather than the basic decency of her citizens. We deserve better.

  • Coy Redic

    I will never vote for a mayor who does not endorse police reform. Any city offical who acts against the welfare of the people should be outted and publicly crucified. We have criminals running for office. Doesnt anyone realise this? There are at least two i know of that both were convicted and may have done prison time yet one is running for councilman of a ward. The other already won his position back and had the gall to run for mayor!! Whats wrong with this city that we cant get away from. The criminal element in out local politics?