Police spending: cities with the best and worst ROI


For city officials, maintaining public safety is often a balancing act between great leadership and budgeting creativity. Many cities since the economic downturn, have had little choice but do more with less – this includes police departments. A 2016 WalletHub report assessed how efficiently the 104 most populated U.S. cities spent public funds on police protection by calculating each city’s return on investment (ROI) on law-enforcement spending, based on crime rates and per-capita expenditures on police forces. To measure police-spending efficiency in conjunction with budgetary constraints and public scrutiny, WalletHub ranked these cities by dividing its total safety rate (100 percent minus property- and violent-crime rates) by police spending per capita. It is important to underline the fact that “efficiency” is different from “overall safety,” which does not account for spending rates.


To control for major cross-city economic differences, WalletHub adjusted police-spending levels by three key economic factors:

  • poverty rate
  • unemployment rate
  • median household income

WalletHub’s 2016 top 10 cities with best ROI on police spending:

  1. Akron, OH
  2. Dayton, OH
  3. Springfield, MA
  4. Syracuse, NY
  5. Detroit, MI
  6. Buffalo, NY
  7. Cleveland, OH
  8. Grand Rapids, MI
  9. Birmingham, AL
  10. Rochester, NY


The adjusted “Per-Capita Police Spending” measure assumes all cities have an average for each of the three factors. This allowed them to compare the ROI of police spending net of cross-city differences using key economic indicators.

Jacob Fowles, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and Administration, University of Kansas noted: “Declining revenues due to the recent financial crisis have impacted nearly every aspect of municipal governments, including the dollars available for salaries, recruitment and training. Cities have had to make hard choices about how to allocate scarce dollars and have learned to make due with less. But there is some evidence of a silver lining to these cuts: a number of public safety organizations have been forced to innovate due to staffing cuts, exploring new forms of service delivery, undertaking partnerships with private and non-profit organizations and re-examining traditional assumptions about workforce and workload requirements.”


Questica represents the largest group of budget software experts in North America dedicated to serving the public sector. Designed specifically for the unique needs of the public sector, Questica Budget has been implemented by over 200 public sector customers ($55 billion in annual budgets) including the City of Buffalo and several police and sheriff’s departments.


If you are looking to improve the ROI of your department’s budgeting and planning process, try a demo of Questica Budget today