I have already addressed the city’s plan to grow NOPD to 1,600 officers by the end of 2020 in the context of police hiring in New Orleans since 1995. The city’s plan, shown below, is to gain a net of 60 new officers in 2016 and a net of 95 new officers each year between 2017 and 2020.
This plan would result in NOPD growing from 1,163 officers at the end of 2015 to 1,603 at the end of 2020. This would represent a gain of 440 total officers, or 38 percent over the next five years. The city’s plan would also require NOPD to grow by 5.2% in 2016, 7.8% in 2017, 7.2% in 2018, 6.7% in 2019 and 6.3% in 2020.
My previous piece talked about the recruitment and attrition history that the city must overcome in order to reach this goal. This time, I wanted to put these goals in a national context. To do so, I used the FBI’s Crime in the United States series, which provides a self-reported total of each department’s number of sworn officers for every year. I went back to 2000 and looked at the 79 cities with populations of at least 250,000 people in 2014. I also compiled 2015 data for 67 of the 79 cities by reaching out to those cities and asking. It’s worth noting that the FBI data is collected in October of each year, while I asked for year-end 2015 data.
With this data compiled, we can assess each aspect of the city’s plan to see how many other cities have accomplished these goals over the last 15 years.
Growing by 440 officers in 5 years:
The simplest way to look at this issue is to find how many cities since 2000 have grown their police department by 440 total officers over five years. Five cities accomplished this over this time frame, all between 2003 and 2010: Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas and Los Angeles.
Those five cities are all big cities, each with a population of more than 1 million people. No city of under 1 million, however, has grown by 440 or more officers in five years since 2000.
Growing by 37.8 percent in 5 years:
The Henderson, Nevada, police force grew by 53 percent between 2000 and 2004, making it the only city to match New Orleans’ overall percentage growth goal. But Henderson’s police department is much smaller: It expanded from 191 officers in 2000 to 299 in 2004. Of larger cities, only Las Vegas’ growth of 33 percent between 2005 and 2009 even comes close to the city’s goal. No city outside of Las Vegas and Henderson has even exceeded 25 percent growth over five years since 2000.
The below chart shows the median growth rate for all U.S. cities with populations greater than 250,000 over a five-year span since 2000. Between 2000 and 2004, for example, the median U.S. city grew by just over 1 percent. Police forces in the median U.S. city have neither grown nor shrunk over the last five years between 2011 and 2015. Even at the peak of police growth between 2004 and 2008, they only saw median growth of 6 percent.
Annual growth of 5-8% for five straight years
Reviewing police force growth data shows that no large U.S. city has sustained growth of 5 percent for five straight years dating to 2000. No city, in fact, has sustained over 3 percent growth for five consecutive years. Only four cities (Austin, Memphis, Las Vegas and Dallas) have sustained even 2 percent growth for five consecutive years.
Las Vegas between 2005 and 2009 came closest to achieving the city’s goals when it grew by 2.2 percent in 2005, 8.7 percent in 2006, 7.1 percent in 2007, 5.8 percent in 2008, and 8.1 percent in 2009.
The median U.S. city with a population greater than 250,000 has seen its police department grow by less 2 percent in every year from 2000 to 2015, as shown in the graph below. U.S. cities did start growing in 2014 and 2015 after five straight years of recession-related shrinking, but the growth has been moderate at best.
It is tough to pinpoint why sustained police hiring is so difficult. Every new police officer hire requires months of background checks and training before he/she is a police officer on the streets. Only a small fraction of police applicants in every city eventually become actual officers. In addition, economic recession reduce government spending, which can reduce police hiring (as it did in New Orleans). Alternatively, electoral changes may lead to different hiring priorities and impact whether a city continues to grow its police force.
Whatever the reason, this analysis shows that cities simply have a difficult time rapidly expanding their police forces. Sustained modest growth is possible, but sustained large-scale growth is rarely accomplished. This is not to say the city’s plan cannot be achieved, but analyzing police hiring both locally and nationally suggest it will be very challenging.
One city that stands out in this analysis is Las Vegas in the mid-2000s. Whatever Las Vegas did during this time frame could be instructive for New Orleans in determining how to expand NOPD as quickly and successfully as possible.