The New York Times has a new story linking rising crime in Sacramento to cuts in the local police force. I doubt any reader finds this particularly surprising. Most people assume that putting police on the streets helps deter some crime and results in the arrest of criminals who aren’t deterred, thereby preventing them from offending again.
What the Times doesn’t explain is why Sacramento’s leaders would choose to inflict such a policy on their community. Are they just nuts?
You have probably guessed at least part of the answer. Like the rest of the nation, Sacramento was hit hard by the recession. It was one of the cities at the epicenter of the bursting of the housing bubble. The combination of the two economic blows depressed the city’s property and sales tax revenues, forcing budget cuts.
But another part of the answer is the extravagant level of pay and benefits for police and fire employees.
According to the California State Controller’s database, 168 police employees in Sacramento received in excess of $100,000 in reportable wages in 2010. Most of these also received more than $20,000 in city contributions to health insurance premiums and employer’s assumption of the employee’s share of pension contributions. In addition, 225 of the 446 fire department employees were paid more than $100,000 in wages.
The “why” here is clear. It is difficult for any community to provide adequate levels of police and fire protection when it pays cops and firefighters twice the average wage of full-time workers in the community.
The puzzled readers of the nation’s paper of record would have been well served by this added context.