Per citizen, Fort Lauderdale spends more on its police department than almost any other city in the country, according to a study the finance website WalletHub released earlier this month. On the surface, that might seem like a good thing. More money should help officers do their jobs better, right?
According to that same study, however, the city's money is not going too far.
Just over a week ago, WalletHub released its annual ranking of the police departments that represent the best “return on investment” — that is, the departments that reduce the most crime, using the least amount of money. In compiling the study, the website tracked how much the 104 most populous U.S. cities spent on policing and compared those figures to cities’ “safety” rates, a number WalletHub’s research team crunched using cities’ crime, unemployment, and poverty data. In terms of return on investment, the study said, Fort Lauderdale Police are the third-worst in the nation.
The problem, the study said, is the fact that the city spends roughly $800 per capita on safety — more than any city studied, save Washington, D.C. — but still reports a safety rate lower than 80 percent of the cities studied. Most of the cities that landed near the bottom of the list did so because they spent a lot actually reducing crime — New York City, for example, rated poorly on WalletHub’s list, simply because it spends an astronomical amount on its cops. New York, however, reported the second-best safety numbers in the entire study. Fort Lauderdale, the study claims, may be uniquely poor at spending money, as it spends a ton without necessarily making its citizens much safer.
Strangely, the “safest” cities, according to WalletHub’s methods, didn’t necessarily land at the top of the study either. Akron, Ohio, which reports a middling “safety” rate, took the top spot, and both Detroit and Cleveland, two cities with particularly bad crime problems, also landed within the top ten. Miami, which ranked roughly as “safe” as Fort Lauderdale, came in at 33rd overall, due to the fact that it spends $300 less
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Fort Lauderdale Police Public Information Officer Keven Dupree said Wednesday he was unable to comment on the study without first consulting other members of the department.
What is clear, though, is that pumping money into a city’s police department doesn’t necessarily lead to increased “safety,” as many of the factors that actually drive crime — like a person’s economic situation — remain, no matter how many cops are sent out on patrol.
One of the experts WalletHub consulted on the study, Aaron Chalfin, who directs research at the University of Chicago’s “Crime Lab New York,” agreed and told WalletHub that “every city faces different challenges, and it’s difficult to infer from crime statistics which departments are doing better than others.” Extra money, he said, is often better spent on "smart policing" programs, like crime-prediction software or de-escalation training for cops, rather than new equipment, in some circumstances.
Still, it’s shocking to see how much Fort Lauderdale pumps into its police force each year — $95 million according to the city’s 2016 budget — compared to, say, public works projects or housing for the city’s relatively large homeless population.