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Baltimore one of most 'under-policed' cities in U.S., study says

A new study on the effect of police on crime suggests that Baltimore is one of the most under-policed cities in the country.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, looked at data comparing crime, police staffing, the cost per officer and other factors, and found that generally, every dollar spent on policing is associated with $1.60 in reduced victimization costs. 

But in Baltimore, due to high levels of crime and relatively low costs to hire police, the benefits for every dollar spent are $3.40, they found. 

The notion that Baltimore is under-policed may be surprising to many - Baltimore has one of the highest ratios of officers per capita in the country, and spends about a quarter of its budget on public safety. Researcher Justin McCrary said that spending is worth it, according to the analysis. 

"Our estimates suggest that if you increase police officers by 10 percent, you can get something like a 5 percent reduction in cost of crime," said McCrary, who co-authored the study with Aaron Chalfin. "For cities with a high level of crime, where police are relatively inexpensive, that's a tradeoff a city should be willing to make."

Their rankings put Baltimore as the 17th most under-policed city out of 242 cities. 

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement that the findings reaffirmed her administration’s approach to funding public safety.

“The study confirms that our investments in the Police Department were sound,” the statement read. “Despite major budget shortfalls, we fully-funded the Police Department, hired hundreds of new officers, invested in new technology such as state-of-the-art crime cameras, while some cities have been forced to cut back and lay off police officers. These investments are helping to sustain major reductions in crime and violence.”

McCrary said the cost of crime in Baltimore is $3,400 per person, and the city's per capita income is $23,000. "That's like crime being a tax of 14 percent," he said. "So by investing in police, you're reducing the tax rate that people confront - the implicit tax that crime places on the city."

According to an analysis FBI data, among large cities Baltimore's 4.7 officers per 10,000 people ranks behind only Washington D.C., where there are 6.1 officers per 10,000 residents, and is higher than Philadelphia or New York. Oakland, Calif. has 1.6 officers per 10,000 residents. 

In Oakland, McCrary said, the cost per officer is estimated to be at $220,000. In Baltimore, it's $97,000. 

He compared Baltimore with Sunnyvale, Calif., which topped the list of "over-policed" cities. 

"The per person cost of crime in Sunnyvale is $170. A five percent reduction in crime isn't worth that much to a place like Sunnyvale,. Citizens in California also have a very high cost per police officer" at $280,000, he said. "Baltimore, in contrast, is something of a bargain [at $98,000]. So it's basically a combination of the fact that crime is high and police are relatively inexpensive."

Read the full study here. The chart showing the most overpoliced and underpoliced cities can be found in Table 10.

Here's the top five most under-policed cities and their "benefit cost ratio":

1. Gary, Indiana 14.0

2. New Orleans, La. 8.2

3. Flint, Mich. 7.5

4. Saginaw, Mich. 5.9

5. Youngstown, Ohio 5.6

17. Baltimore, Md. 3.4

The top five most over-policed cities:

1. Sunnyvale, Calif. 0.2

2. Waltham, Mass. 02. 

3. Torrance, Calif. 0.3

4. Palo Alto, Calif. 0.3

5. Bayonne, N.J. 0.3

jfenton@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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