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Just the FACTS

Policing in California

  • Research shows that increased policing is a cost-effective way to prevent crime.
    Higher levels of police staffing help to reduce crime. The most recent credible research finds that each additional police officer reduces crime by 1.3 violent crimes and 4.2 property crimes per year. Other recent evidence estimates that the crime-reducing benefits of hiring an additional police officer exceed $300,000 per year, much more than the annual cost of an additional officer.
  • Almost half of California’s law enforcement officers work for municipal police departments.
    In 2012 there were 77,060 law enforcement officers in California. About 48% were municipal police officers, 39% were county sheriff officers, and almost 10% were with the California Highway Patrol. About 3% were employed in other capacities, such as university or port police, or with the Department of Parks and Recreation.
  • Law enforcement funding is mainly a local concern.
    Police protection constitutes less than 1% of direct expenditures by the state but accounts for 6.6% and 14.1%, at the county and city levels, respectively. Local police protection is funded by property, business, and sales taxes; federal and state grants; local fees and fines; and voter-approved increases in general and special sales taxes. For example, voters recently approved a three-quarter cent sales tax increase in the city of Stockton, with most of that money going toward hiring 120 police officers over the next three years. In 2010, California law enforcement agencies spent $15.6 billion for police protection, slightly more than the $14.8 billion the state and the counties spent on corrections.
  • Staffing levels vary across the state ...
    Los Angeles County employed 23,838 officers in 2012, accounting for nearly 31% of law enforcement officers in the state. California’s least populous county, Alpine, employed 14 officers. Officer levels vary from a low of 141 per 100,000 residents in the Sacramento region, to 179 in the San Francisco Bay Area, to a high of 241 in Los Angeles County.
  • … and have been on the decline since the Great Recession.
    California reached a high of 256 officers per 100,000 residents in 2008. By 2012, this number had dropped to 236—similar to the national rate of 235, but a significant decline nonetheless. Among police departments statewide, this meant a decrease of 2,903 officers, or 7.2%. Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, San Francisco, and Santa Clara Counties saw the largest drop in police officers, accounting for 47% of all police officer declines. Sheriff departments saw a decline of 1,995 officers, or 6.3 %, statewide. Fresno, Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, and San Mateo Counties accounted for 52% of all sheriff losses.
  • Counties that have lost more officers have experienced smaller reductions in crime.
    California enjoyed an overall decline in crime between 2008 and 2012. During that time, the 10 counties that saw the largest decreases in the number of officers experienced the smallest reductions in crime—about 165 fewer crimes per 100,000 residents. In contrast, the 10 counties with the smallest losses in the number of officers saw the largest reductions in crime—about 292 fewer crimes per 100,000 residents.
  • Public safety realignment poses new challenges to policing in California.
    California’s 2011 public safety realignment increased "street time” among offenders and shifted supervision of released lower-level felons from state parole to county probation departments. With limited additional funding and increased responsibilities, police departments may now be particularly strained.

Sources: Aaron Chalfin and Justin McCrary, 2013, "Are U.S. Cities Under-Policed? Theory and Evidence,” working paper, UC Berkeley; Paul Heaton, 2010, "Hidden in Plain Sight: What Cost-of-Crime Research Can Tell Us About Investing in Police,” RAND Corporation; California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Profiles 2003–2012; California Department of Finance: County Population Estimates, 2003-2012; Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, 2003–2012; United States Bureau of Justice Statistics: Justice Expenditures Program,2010; Mac Taylor, 2013, "California’s Criminal Justice System: A Primer,” California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Supported with funding from the Smith Richardson Foundation.


Magnus Lofstrom
Senior Fellow
Brandon Martin
Research Associate

Policy Areas



Magnus Lofstrom
California has more officers per 100,000 residents than its neighbors, but...
California has seen a dramatic decline in law enforcement officers since 2008