With the economy the way it is, it may be of little surprise that police departments are also struggling financially. In the early months of last year, five different cities across New Jersey that were struggling with funding and revenue had to let go of hundreds of police officers.
Now, nearly two years later officials are looking at how the layoffs have affected crime rates and priorities within police departments. Specifically, statistics from arrest data show that arrests for minor offenses, such as minor drug charges, have risen.
Analysis of the data shows that fewer police officers can force a department to shift priorities. Instead of having more numbers to address many of the minor offenses, the remaining officers focus on more serious offenses.
The five different cities have seen a decrease in arrests for minor offenses. For example, in Newark the number of arrests for minor infractions dropped to half after the layoffs. In Paterson, the average number of arrests for drug possession and shoplifting, among other minor offenses, also decreased just a few months after the layoffs.
The numbers have raised concern among city officials and police experts. How will this impact the cities over a long period of time? If fewer people are getting arrested but the number of people actually committing the crime stays the same, it could lead to higher crime rates. Prior to this shift in priorities, police departments had actually focused efforts on minor infractions such as drug crimes.
Is this a trend that the cities should be concerned about? Or are there other reasons for the change in arrest rates?
Source: The Star-Ledger, "Analysis: N.J. police layoffs lead to fewer arrests for minor offenses," The Associated Press, Nov. 20, 2011