By Aaron Chalfin, Benjamin Hansen, Emily Weisburst, Morgan C. Williams Jr., Niskanen Center
As police shootings remain in the public eye and the Black Lives Matter movement demands change, vocal debate about “defunding” the police can obscure a critical point: Most Americans, Black and white, are clear that what they want is not the end of police, but better police. What people want is police who treat civilians with respect and reduce serious crime. While most white Americans are generally satisfied with the police service they receive, among Black Americans there is considerably greater concern that the costs of policing are too high and that the benefits are not as large as they ought to be.
Do more police mean safer streets?
Are police effective in reducing crime? Some observers have suggested that since police spend so much of their time responding to calls for service, they don’t engage in a whole lot of crime prevention. But there is now a great deal of evidence that the presence of police officers promotes public safety. For example, research shows that concentrating police at crime hot spots reduces serious crime in those areas and that crime levels change when police officers are reallocated in response to a terrorist attack or when they are called away from their assigned beats to deal with a serious traffic accident.
Given the Defund movement’s focus on the size of a city’s police force, it is also important to consider the effects of investments in police personnel: the number of sworn officers employed by a police department.