Is the Half Moon Bay police department budget too high?
When I was in grad school my professors, mostly economists and policy wonk types, loved to use the phrase “first approximation.” First approximation this, first approximation that. It was used to refer to everything from an outright guess (without even the pretense of analysis) to a sort-of first pass look at a question, both to get a sense of what the answer might be and to see whether the result was interesting enough to warrant a deeper look. This second sort of “first approximation,” the kind I am utilizing here, doesn’t pretend to be highly refined–it isn’t. It also doesn’t pretend to be error-free. No doubt corrections can be made.
The first chart looks at HMB’s police budget in terms of what it costs per person. Of course that’s not how it really works–the City gets money from all sorts of sources so people don’t actually pay this amount. But by breaking it down this way it gives us a useful way to compare the HMB police budget against cities with different populations.
This second chart takes a crack at the question from a slightly different angle. Here we are looking at how big the police budget is compared with the overall city budget (general fund). The idea is to get a sense of whether the police budget is crowding out other spending.
What jumps out at me in this comparison is that Half Moon Bay’s police budget is high both relative to the size of its population and to the size of its budget. More worrisome is that the budget continues to rapidly rise–another $500,000 or so is to be added to the police budget, changing HMB’s number in the first chart to about $417 per person. Yet looking at the police blotter there doesn’t seem to be a crime wave in the area or an expansion of police responsibilities that are commensurate with its drain on City resources.
Yet this growth, which is placing great constraints upon the City–greater than any potential $30 million judgment–has taken place with little to no public discussion.
This is a first approximation. Please send corrections and ideas for further refinement to us or discuss them in the Forum.
Click here to download high resolution versions of these charts.
(Observant readers will be saying to themselves, “Hey, what happened to Colma in the first chart?” The answer is that Colma has a little over a thousand living residents but a large police force due to the high density of visitors and businesses located there. This odd situation throws the numbers way out of whack–the price per person for their police in Colma is $4480, so high it would make the other bars unreadable if it were plotted to scale.)
(Ahem. Super-observant readers (thank you) will be saying to themselves, “Brisbane?” Whoops-like I said, this is a first approximation! Brisbane’s population is 3597 and their budget is $12,600,000–but their online budget documents are incomplete and do not include the police budget. I’ll contact them and add the info as soon as I can.)