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Saturday, 8 February 2020

Police costs and efficiency - is small beautiful?

What is the optimum size of a police force, either to be most efficient in tackling crime or most economically efficient? This is not a question of opinion, but of fact. Such things are determinable, and we have, between the UK and the US, which share most closely a model of policing, a sample set that includes forces such as the Met of 30,000 officers down to independent forces in small US towns of six to eight officers. 

The 1960 Royal Commission on the Police in a very English way didn't actually rely on scientific or statistical method, but on ill-reasoned opinion that supported the prejudices of the Commissioners. Presenting the report to the House, the Home Secretary Henry Brooke said
The Commission suggests that forces numbering less than 200 are handicapped; that the retention of forces less than 350 strong is not normally justifiable, and that the best size of a force is upwards of 500 ... I agree with the Commission that in this small, densely populated island, we have too many separate forces...I am not suggesting that small police forces are inefficient; a small force can attain a very high standard of esprit de corps, but I agree with the Royal Commission that small forces tend to be handicapped. They lack the flexibility of larger forces; they cannot always make the best use of available manpower, and the efficient policing of wider areas is sometimes impaired by the preservation of what are often arbitrary and irksome police boundaries, from the point of view of crime and road traffic. Some areas are better policed by a large force than by a number of small forces, however efficient each of the small forces is.
And there we have impeccable civil service Oxford logic, an argument bereft of fact or evidence and supported by reason alone. "We asked Charles, David, Neville and Tarquin and they all had a guess and we took the average and rounded it out".

Contrary to the Home Secretary's opinions, the job of the police is not to provide the Home Office with administrative convenience but to deal with crime - at least in the eyes of the public, whom the police serve and who pay their wages. Those efficient small local forces that caused the civil servants such irritation at the Home Office were exactly what the public wanted.

From the 1970s the economists and statisticians examined police structures. The academics found many factors that needed to be reconciled; night time populations, ethnic and socio-economic population composition, density, age profile of population - number of under-25s, density of businesses, road lengths and types, whether the area was growing or in decline, property values. As for the outputs, did one measure reported crime, arrests, convictions or just police interventions with no outcomes? One UK study (Drake and Simper 2002) even used the number of breathalyzer tests administered as a significant determinant of police efficiency.

However, what all of the many studies since the 1970s have in common, on both sides of the Atlantic, is that they quantify efficiencies in what police actually do - the entire panoply of police functions as they are constituted. As I will look at in the third of these posts, we need to look at policing differently.

A readable summary of the evidence is summarised in both a US study and a UK synopsis.  The bottom line?
  • The efficiency of a police force is optimised serving a population of 25,000 - 50,000 (US) or 25,000 to 250,000 (UK)
  • There are significant and substantial dis-economies of scale - large police forces cost more and have more crime
  • There is a lower level below which it is not efficient to maintain an independent police force - a population of about 2,000 citizens
There is also in the UK a missing component - local per capita costs. I am still looking for the tables of a force-by-force breakdown of cost per capita and this must also be an important determinant of future policy. Overall for England and Wales, the costs are given in this 2019 Home Office statistical bulletin.  If I have half a day I can make a decent fist of producing a breakdown analysis, but the point is I should not have to.

Overall, cost of policing for England and Wales is £14.063bn per year. Mid-year population estimate 2018 was 59.17m. Annual cost per capita is therefore £237.67.

Just one note from the US literature review -
Whereas the average per capita expenditure for the 14 police departments in the sample was $177.36, Finney (1997) estimated that consolidating them into one department (with their arrest output remaining the same) would result in a per capita cost of $472.78.


Sackerson said...

And the cost of prevention via foot patrol and local knowledge, versus post-incident investigation?

Doonhamer said...

Police do not seem to take advantage of economies of scale when it comes to large purchases like vehicles and their maintenance. They seem to have a strange mixture.
This probably applies to all purchases / contracts but we the bill payers don't see them.
For further advantages of Big Polis, see Scotland.

r_writes esq. said...

If my £240 can uncover just one person who is beastly to or about Philip Schofield, it will be money well spent..... NOT!

Of course the reality is that I couldn't care less what he does with his private life, I am not interested in what his on screen partner does when she gets home at night either.

I might be interested in receiving some kind of response regarding my reports about suspicious vehicles in my area, seen breaking into parked cars belonging to residents. It might be nice to see, say once a day, at irregular times, just one policeman in car or on foot/bike/whatever.

The truth is that we have a sort of local version of social media "next door", and it keeps people more aware of local criminal activity than the afore mentioned £240, unless speeding in a 20mph zone is the imperative.

Anonymous said...

The police are also contaminated by leftish idiocy, such as poverty breeds crime, whereas in fact the reverse is true: crime breeds poverty. One particularly irritating incident from my own experience, back in the mid 80s was some scumbaf broke the drivers window in a car I had, then ripped the dash to steal a radio that didn't work and was just there to fill a hole.

Cost of the window, which couldn't be fixed without taking the door off because of the anti-crash measures required for the US market: £700 (then). Cost of fixing the dash: another £700.

Value of a broken radio: £0

Nett loss to all concerned, me and the thief: £1400.

OK, the repair shop made a profit, so did the tax man.

Anonymous said...

Scumbaf = scumbag fucker, or just a typo!

Dave_G said...

Every Government department starts with the best of intentions and is then 'destroyed' by policy amendments that invariably involve putting a lot of NPC's into positions that simply create a feedback effect.

(NPC = non=performing character..... in this case pen-pushers, desk jockeys etc)

The NHS is rife with them, as is our armed forces, police etc.

I suppose that "better on the public payroll than claiming benefits" is a reasonable excuse (not).

One cannot distance ones self from the feeling that every public appointment is made to further another public appointees power/wealth and that there is far too little scrutiny and redress for the people that pay the bills.

As with the idea of business people running economies, doctors/nurses running hospitals etc maybe victims deciding on the policing structure should be the way forward.

Nessimmersion said...

Police Scotland can be seen as the classic example of diseconomies of scale. All they had to do was group purchase back office functions (payroll clothing etc etc) Instead under the numpties they have all the diseconomies of a large force, lack of local knowledge leaving car crashes unchecked so the passengers die in the car 2 days later, but still have funding to investigate Count Dancula for example.

Raedwald said...

Nessimmersion - spot on.
I'll be dealing with this in the next post

Span Ows said...

Indeed, evidence the 8 car-loads of police officers driving half the country with helicopter in tow and BBc present for Cliff Richard house searching on the basis of zero evidence (one claim) whilst turning a blindeye to industrial gang rape of children (and abuse, drugs etc) on their doorstep.

Rot may ahve set in with the Police Act but the Scarman then MacPherson nails in the coffin pretty much doome dthe UK to it's current state. The lefty liberal tory nasty police nasty mantra has been constant and we are reaping the whirlwind. I'm afraid the only way back from the brink is hard ball. First we need loads more gaols (that'll help employment etc), Victorian conditions, one strike and you're out etc. Smash crime gangs (literally, use the army short term)...within 5 years you'll be surprised how little crime there is.

Dave_G said...

@ SO - "...but...but...but....bwahhhhhhhhh....." <sound from liberal morons.

Anonymous said...

Policing costs:



(please include costs for analogue and digital surveillance activities, paramilitary training/equipment and Common Purpose course fees)


JPM said...

Raedwald, you know all those people, that the likes of you and Farage got so angry about immigration in the run-up to the referendum?

Well, they're still angry about it.

You can all try changing the subject, to the police, the environment, economy or whatever, but they'll keep coming back to it, and forgetting about the rest.

You did too good a job.

Span Ows said...

JPM, why shouldn't "they" keep coming back to it? What eslse should we forget in your opinion? Education? Security? Health? Please, let us know, what should people stop being concerned about? without including births we have 6 million more people so far this century just in net immigration...

There is no housing crisis: there is an immigration crisis.
There is no hospital/A&E crisis: there is an immigration crisis.
There is no school-place crisis: there is an immigration crisis.
There is no teacher crisis: there is an immigration crisis.
There is no doctor/nurse crisis: there is an immigration crisis.
There is no hospital/A&E crisis: there is an immigration crisis.
There is no infrastructure/road crisis: there is an immigration crisis.
There is no employment crisis: there is an immigration crisis.

JPM said...


Gary Cordner said...

The highest rated service in the UK the last few years? Durham, one of the smallest.

Anonymous said...

Police what police? We have not seen a uniform in my area for over two years. If you ring the police you will be fobbed off with such things as "oh that's a civil offence"
As a bachelor of laws I do know the difference but if that fails you can be told "we can't find your area on our map" in short any excuse or lie not to bother coming out. To us the police are no more than state revenue gathers praying on the law abiding. They are a total disgrace and almost nobody has any regard or time for them anymore.