This article examines the direct financial cost of public police services. A broad interpretation of the term costs could include various other costs and benefits such as crimes prevented and detected, the resultant costs of criminal justice services, and quality-of-life issues for society. However, these are not the present focus. In what follows, the discussion of costs of police services in both the United States and the United Kingdom sheds light on the significant differences in the composition, sources, and nature of the costs in two industrialized countries. To provide a broader context, that discussion is located alongside coverage of the rise in private police services as well as the most recent estimates of the global costs of public police services.

Public and private police expenditures change to reflect supply and demand. Demand from society changes as crime patterns change with socioeconomic, technological, and political developments. Supply of police services adapts to changes in labor markets as well as technological and other change. Generally speaking, industrialized countries have seen an increase in police salaries and numbers at the same time as increasing expenditure on technology. In many countries, private policing, that is, the private security industry, has been a major growth area in recent years (National Archives 2005; Home Office 1999; Jones and Newburn 2002).

Costs of Police Services in the United States

Estimating total expenditure on public policing in the United States is logistically difficult due to the existence of around eighteen thousand law enforcement agencies of varying sizes (Maguire et al. 1998; Reaves and Hickman 2002). Federal government expenditure on justice, funneled via the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), trebled in real terms between 1981 and 2001 to reach $25.3 billion. Direct expenditure on state and local agencies increased 230% in real terms between 1982 and 2001.

This article was written in 2005, when the estimated relevant DOJ budget for 2006 was $19.1 billion, down from $20.2 billion for 2005. The reduction was sought from state and local law enforcement grants deemed to have little impact on crime. At the same time, however, increases in spending on federal agencies was expected, including increases for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration (Office of Management and Budget 2005).

At the state and local levels, the Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) surveys of 1993 and 2000 found rising annual operating expenditure per officer (Hickman and Reaves 2003). Although the 2004 census of state and local law enforcement agencies was under way, results were not available at the time of this writing (Police Chief2004); the 2000 census found just under eight hundred thousand full-time sworn staff in various agencies (Table 1) and more than three hundred thousand nonsworn police staff in 2000 (Reaves and Hickman 2002). Average cost per officer, including equipment, was around $100,000 in 2000 (Table 2).

A significant part of rising police costs is attributable to increased use of technology including radios and other communications, vehicles, computers, and digital equipment. LEMAS found that in 1990 only 14% of state and 19% of local agencies used car-mounted computers compared to 59% and 68% respectively by 2000 (Reaves and Hickman 2002).

Table 1 Number of Police Agencies and Staff in the United States

Type of agency Number of agencies Number of full-time officers

Local police






Primary state



Special jurisdiction



Texas constable



All state and local









Table 2 Annual Operating Expenditure per Officer per Annum 1993-2000















Costs of Police Services in the United Kingdom

In England and Wales in 2005, police were organized into forty-three area police forces, while in the process of consolidation to as few as a dozen (BBC 2005a, 2005b). Officially, 51% of police costs are met by central government grants and 49% by local government (Police grant report 2005). In practice, due to supplementary small grants, the central government funds around 80% of U.K. policing (Mellows-Facer 2003; Home Office 2004). Central government expenditure is established on a needs-based formula with additional funding received from three central sources: police grants, revenue support grants including business rates, and council tax (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary 2004). Because central government keeps a tight hold on the funding reins, it has far more control and influence over the nation’s policing than exists in the United States. Together with the different structure, this way of meeting the costs of police services is arguably one of the key differences between the organization of U.S. and U.K. policing.

U.K. government spending on policing increased by around a quarter from 2000 to nearly £12 billion ($21 billion at a 1.75 exchange rate) for 2005-2006 (Home Office 2004). Recent increases in spending were mainly due to increased staff. In 1971 there were ninety-seven thousand police officers and twenty-eight thousand civilian staff (Census 2001). By 2005 there were more than one hundred and forty thousand police officers and more than seventy thousand civilian staff (Home Office 2005b). In the region of 85% of police budgets are taken up by staffing costs (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary 1998/99; Newing 2002).

Prior to U.K. government allocation of police funding, a proportion is retained to fund science and technology initiatives. This increased from £35 million in 2001-2002 to £164 million in 2002-2003 (Home Office 2004,2005a). The government funds various agencies such as the Police Scientific Development Branch (PSDB) and the Forensic Science Service (FSS). Their science and technology budget varies with priorities. For example, the introduction of Airwave—a radio communications system—was supported by £500 million of central funding, and £34 million was provided in 1999 to expand the national DNA database (Home Office 2000).

Local police force expenditure in the United Kingdom is difficult to calculate because costs are based on local needs and priorities. Total government expenditure on science and technology is estimated to have declined from £900 million in 2001-2002 to £748 million in 2002-2003 (Home Office 2004, 2005a). The majority of that budget was spent on equipment for forensics, information technology, and transport (Table 3).

Private Policing

The growth of the private security industry during the last thirty years threatens the state monopoly (Jones and Newburn 2002; Maguire et al. 2002). Private security policing covers three main areas: manned security services, detention/professional security services, and security products (George and Button 2000, cited in Danby 2001). However, estimates of spending appear infrequent and are not comprehensively examined here. In the United States, state and local government spending on private security increased from $27 billion in 1975 (Cunningham et al. 1990, cited in Golsby 1998) to an estimated $40 billion for local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies combined in 1996 (Gage 1998). By 2002, annual expenditure for security products and services was estimated to be around $45 billion (Gage 1998). In the United Kingdom, estimated turnover of the private security industry increased from £130 to £140 million in 1979 to around £2.1 billion by 1992 (Home Office 1999). The British Security Industry Association (2004) estimated the annual turnover of the private security industry in the region of £4.8 billion for 2004.

Table 3 Average Percentage Spent on Science and Technology Services and Equipment 20012002 to 2002-2003
















Office equipment



Other science and






Police national















Note: Figures from the average total force spent on science and technology by six representative forces. Figures exclude expenditure on centrally funded science and technology projects (Home Office 2004, 2005a).

The Cost of Global Public Police Services

While industrialized countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom often have the administrative ability and public accountability that produces public estimates of the costs of police services, this is far from true for the world as a whole. The most recent estimates of the global cost of public police services were based on a global survey by the United Nations and relate to 1997 (Farrell and Clarke 2004). Expenditure on public police services tends to reflect the overall strength of a country’s economy. Based on a survey of seventy countries, that relationship was used to predict spending for countries where the expenditure data were unavailable. It was estimated that the world spent $223 billion in 1997 or the equivalent of $268 billion in 2005 prices (adjusted for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, though it would be expected that actual spending would have increased along with economic growth during this period).

Whereas the costs of public police services per capita in the United Kingdom and the United States were roughly similar at around $215 per annum, significant variations were seen across the world. Switzerland had the highest estimated per capita expenditure on police services at $277. It is also the case that costs were notably lower than expected for a simple GDP-expenditure relationship in some industrialized countries such as Japan and Belgium. For many of the less affluent countries of the world, per capita expenditure on policing was less than $50, although that would go further if labor and other costs were lower. While such issues require further research and exploration, it is clear that while the economy (and thus the availability of public funds) is an important determinant, other factors also play a role in determining expenditure on public police services.


The costs of police services are met from different sources in different countries. Costs of public policing have increased significantly in recent years in industrial countries (highlighted here by the United States and the United Kingdom), reflecting both increased expenditure on technology and demands for more police officers. Globally, however, the costs of police services vary enormously. A key determinant of overall public policing expenditure appears to be the strength of a country’s economy, which drives tax revenues on which public service expenditures are based. Over time, existing technologies will become cheaper and more readily available, while new technologies will require additional expenditure.

The expansion of private policing is likely to continue to play an increasingly important role in the overall costs of police services. However, the introduction of market-based innovations such as sponsorship could play an increasingly prominent role in generating revenue for public services. It is not inconceivable that such market-based funding sources could lead to increased investment in public (and publicly accountable) police services without requiring commensurate increases in the allocation of public revenues. Advertising on police cars could increase if it brings resources that allow public policing to compete in the marketplace.

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