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Expansion of Police Forces Leads to More Misdemeanor Arrests: Study

When President Biden proposed a new federal budget, he included big increases in police spending. A growth in federal spending would follow similar increases in cities. Despite calls in 2020 to defund the police, most cities increased the percent of their budget devoted to policing in 2021. Washington D.C., Denver, and Los Angeles have all expanded or are proposing to expand police budgets, reports Slate. Even Austin, one of the few cities to cut spending dramatically in response to Black Lives Matter protests, has restored its police budget and then some, growing spending 35 percent to a record $442 million this year. The crime-control benefits of additional policing are unclear. Some studies find that adding officers have no impact on violent crime, while others find they decrease it.

A new study suggests all the new police budget growth is likely to do one thing: increase misdemeanor arrests. An analysis of hundreds of cities and towns over 29 years found that the size of a city’s police budget and its police force predicted how many arrests its officers made for things like loitering, trespassing, and drug possession. When cities decreased the size of their police departments, they saw fewer misdemeanor arrests and when they increased them, they saw more. Despite widespread support for community policing, it did not lead to fewer misdemeanor arrests. It was the amount of policing, not the type of policing, that influenced misdemeanor arrest rates. Arrests for petty offenses can be devastating for the people arrested and their communities. Even a single arrest makes a person less likely to stay in school school, be hired for a job, or obtain housing. The punishment of an arrest often leads to fines, fees, and what legal scholar Issa Kohler-Hausmann calls “procedural hassles,” even in cases that do not result in jail time.


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