Policing after the “financial crisis”

So I did a little bit of “exploratory ethnography” here in my new home of Worcester, MA by going to a Public Safety Commission Meeting.  There’s plenty that could be said about it, even though it lasted all of ten minutes (has anybody else gone to these kinds of meetings?  Have you noticed how existentially absurd they are?  They don’t really do anything like that in France), but one thing in particular stuck out… It seems that the City of Worcester will need to lay off 24 officers by the end of September due to the city’s $1,300,000 (i like to leave in zeros) deficit.  this is on top of the fact that they apparently graduated 32 new recruits in February and promptly proceeded to lay them off at the end of the month.

To me, that sounds like a lot.  To put that in context, according to the WPD’s 2008 Annual report they had 381 budgeted police personnel, which amounted to $38,969,002 in Salary, Overtime and Holiday/Extras.  So these cuts would mean anywhere from about a 6% (just subtracting the 24 officers from last year’s corps) to a 17% (adding together the 24, plus the 32 recruits, plus the 9 scheduled retirees) cut in the workforce and the $1.2 million would be about 3% of the money budgeted for salary. Now, that doesn’t sound like that much, but I have no idea to be honest.  I really have only a general sense of what these kinds of cuts will mean–if they mean anything new at all.

Which got me wondering: does anyone know of any good work and/or reporting being done on the effects of the financial crisis on the practices of policing in American (or other) cities?  If not, shouldn’t we be a part of that?  What kinds of questions can we fruitfully ask about the situation?

Here’s the outline of one: if nothing else, what we’ve learned from the literature on neoliberalism is that it doesn’t make much sense to call it a “retreat of the state”–everyone from Loic Wacquant to Nikolas Rose & co. to the Cheney/Bush homeland security apparatus has shown us that.  Even though that’s very much how the present crisis is being framed (“lack of government funds” etc.), the same truth still seems to hold–wither the stimulus money, for example?

How else to make sense of  “financial crisis'” affect on municipal policing?

Further Reading

Wacquant, L. (2008). The Body, the Ghetto and the Penal State Qualitative Sociology, 32 (1), 101-129 DOI: 10.1007/s11133-008-9112-2

Wacquant, L. (2001). The Penalisation of Poverty and the rise of Neo-Liberalism European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 9 (4), 401-412 DOI: 10.1023/A:1013147404519

Rose, N., O’Malley, P., & Valverde, M. (2006). Governmentality Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 2 (1), 83-104 DOI: 10.1146/annurev.lawsocsci.2.081805.105900


One thought on “Policing after the “financial crisis”

  1. socdeputy says:


    There has actually been quite a bit of newspaper coverage of how the recession has impacted American policing. My department has been significantly impacted by the recession and by no means do I work for an impoverished county.

    First, policeone.com has had continous coverage of how the recession is impacting police officers and their departments. They discuss everything from cheap training to compensate for no funds for training, how to manage overtime, and how to cover beats when deputies are being laid off or positions are not being filled.

    Theoretically, Loic’s arguments about the massive expansion of the penal state have little to do with policing. Homeland security does not play a major part in the lives of American citizens in the way the police do. Nor is there all that much funding for anything relevant to local police from Homeland security. In other words, even under Bush/Cheney there has not been a build up of a better equipped, organized, or centralized security apparatus like what exists in Chili or even France.

    At best, over the past twenty years, departments have tried to grow as the populations of their jurisdictions have grown. However, in California, the vast majority of departments, pre-recession, were 10-15% bellow mandated staffing levels. (So if you subtract another 6-13% of staff, assuming those cadets are going to be replacing the retiring or injured officers who will be exiting the department, those layoffs and hiring freezes can be devestating to the regular functioning of the department.) That has only been exacerbated now that retiring officers positions aren’t being filled, academy graduates are laid off as soon as they graduate, and officers low on seniority lists are laid off.

    Financially, what I see in my department are huge labor concessions. Our bargining unit, like most others in the state have had to forfeit merit pay increases, scheduled pay raises that were part of our current contract, pay more for health care, and take furlough days.

    What this means on the street is that we are working consistently at minimum staffing, reports don’t get turned in immediately to prosecutors because there isn’t the overtime to pay deputies to finish reports. There are critically few officers available to provide critical backup. In-service training no longer exists (which is a HUGE problem in a department with many new members and people being rotated into new specialized positions from patrol).

    Remember, the most expensive part of hiring a deputy is medical and pension. So in addition to every salary cut form a lay off are big payoffs in savings pension and medical contributions.

    Back to the neoliberal penal state issue… police department budgets and staffs have not grown proportionally with the rise in the U.S. population. Even stimulus money is limited. It is good only for hiring NEW police officers, not saving experienced cops from getting laid off or other departments for hiring qualified laterals (which saves more money because lateral need less training!). Carceral institutions are separate from police institutions and their trajectories are not the same. Even the CA prison system is about to shrink, by State and Federal mandates.

    I also fogot to mention the huge change in the power of unions in the past five years. Beginning about five years ago, cities throughout California began declaring bankruptcy, based on projected spending on pensions and health care. Cities like Vallejo declared bankruptcy to get out of their obligations to police and fire bargaining units. The trend diffused throughout the state and now police departments are being faced with having decades of negotiations and progressive labor reforms rolled back. The threat that such actions MIGHT happen has led bargaining units, like mine to make more concessions and ask for less out of the fear that the county might try similar union breaking tactics. The recession has amplified this. Police labor is in a even weaker position as of this year then it has been in decades. The recession gives local governments the legitimacy of a “crisis or emergency” to back out of labor contracts. Since police unions have been at the forefront of public union activity, this does not bode well for the entire public service sector, because if cops can’t keep their health care and pensions, then it is hard to argue why Cal Trans, clerical workers, or other civil service employees should keep theirs.


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