Tag Archives: law enforcement

Boulder, Colorado Traffic Safety is Ineffective and Behind the Times

 

By Dom Nozzi

October 11, 2016

Every few years for about 80 years, Boulder and pretty much every other city in the US “redoubles its efforts” to engage in more education and enforcement to promote bicycle and pedestrian safety.

At best, such efforts have had marginal benefits.

After 80 years of “redoubling our efforts,” Boulder’s streets are more dangerous than ever.

In my view, these endlessly repeated campaigns are largely a waste of time and money (except to show symbolic support for political reasons), and the very minor benefits diminish each time we implement these campaigns (the dilemma of diminishing 3556802_origreturns). Indeed, such ineffective and repeated campaigns may be worse than a waste of time, as they can distract the City from engaging in pursuing meaningful strategies. Strategies such as retrofitting streets for slower and more attentive car travel, reducing the size of roads and parking lots, significantly increasing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians by removing motorist subsidies and making community development more compact.

Nothing else comes remotely close to being as effective as these tactics in increasing motorist attentiveness, slowing down motorists, and growing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians. I am ashamed of how much Boulder has delayed doing these things – particularly in the face of the many recent traffic fatalities and the plateauing of the levels of bicycling, walking, and transit use.

If it were up to me, Boulder would forego a number of expensive, big-ticket “safety” projects in the pipeline right now (which I believe do almost nothing to improve safety) and divert that money to effective tactics I mention above.

And start doing that immediately.

Shame on Boulder for dragging its feet and being so far behind the times regarding redesigning our streets effectively. Shame on Boulder for thinking it can just give up on trying to calm larger roads and monster intersections. For thinking that it is a good idea to create an alternative (“separate but equal”?) off-street path system for cyclists – a system that will never allow commuter cyclists to reach more than a tiny fraction of destinations cyclists have a right to get to by bike.

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Road Diet, Transportation, Walking

The OVER-Funding of Law Enforcement

By Dom Nozzi

A few decades ago, an elected local government friend of mine posted information on a local politics email discussion list that showed the significant budget increases allocated to the County Sheriff for several years. I told him I was deeply gratified by his courage in bringing to light such overlooked information.

Indeed, the conventional wisdom tells us that law enforcement is vastly UNDER-funded.

In my evaluations of local government funding, city and county governments throughout the nation nearly always allocate TOO MUCH local government revenue to law enforcement, largely because local law enforcement has been an out-of-control sacred cow in America. It is our dirty little secret, that no one dares mention due to excessive citizen fear and crime hysteria. I therefore applauded his uncommon courage in pointing out the excessive law enforcement funding by the local government he was elected to govern.

In a report I prepared at the time showing the astronomically high levels of funding provided to local governments across America, I pointed out that local law enforcement is treated very much like the Pentagon at the national level. The Pentagon and our local law enforcement people always ask for huge annual budget increments, and nearly always get it.admin-ajax (1)

After all, who is going to be “soft” on Communism? Drugs? Babies in burning buildings? Too often, opposing outrageous budget increases is akin to supporting murder and mayhem.

The increase in law enforcement budgets that local governments tend to dole out each year greatly exceeds population growth and inflation.

The law enforcement budget in the city I lived in, for example, greatly exceeded inflation in the 20 years I lived there. The Police Department budget increased by over 400 percent in that time period, despite a population increase of only 20 percent.

Appallingly, a number of local “progressives” supported massive police budget increases, blinded by both the media and their emotions into forgetting that money going to police is money diverted away from public programs that can effectively reduce crime (or improve our quality of life with things like open space acquisition or restoration of environmentally degraded areas).

In fact, I’d argue that there is an inverse correlation between the money we throw at the police, and our crime and quality of life problems. The more money we put into law enforcement, the HIGHER the crime rate and the lower our quality of life becomes. And the self-perpetuating aspect of this is that as we spend excessive amounts of law enforcement, an indirect consequence is often that crime and fear worsen. The “solution”? Throw MORE money at our law enforcement agencies!

It is a ruinous outrage what a large percentage of the total city and county budgets go to law enforcement in America.

It will be a great day when local law enforcement departments have to hold a bake sale for their revenue needs, while quality of life programs get all the money they need from the local government.

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Sub-Optimizing on Law Enforcement and Fire Services

By Dom Nozzi

“Three-quarters of San Jose’s [CA] discretionary spending goes to its public safety workers alone – police and fire fighters. The City has closed libraries, cut back on park services, laid off many civil servants and asked the rest to take pay cuts. By 2014, San Jose, the 10th largest city in the US, will be serviced by 1,600 public workers, one-third the number it had 25 years ago.” — Fareed Zakaria, Time Magazine, June 25, 2012.

Law enforcement and fire services are essential local government services. But in nearly all American cities, an excessive amount of the city budget is devoted to law enforcement and fire services. This leads to a “sub-optimizing” of law enforcement and fire services, which means that such an extreme amount of resources are devoted to these services that other essential community services are provided with inadequate amounts of resources. The end result of sub-optimizing, typically, is a net loss in achieving important overall community objectives.

Law enforcement and fire services in the city may be the best in the world, but the provision of dollars to other city services is so meager (due to the excess going to fire services) that the overall quality of life in the city is in a poor, downwardly-spiraling condition.

Gainesville FL, where I worked as a senior planner for 20 years, is an excellent example of the problem.

When I say “excessive,” I refer to a study I conducted where I compared the law enforcement and fire department budgets for Gainesville to that of several comparable cities throughout the nation. Gainesville had, by far, the highest per capita law enforcement and fire services expenditures of any comparable city.

This state of affairs occurred because for decades, Gainesville police and fire departments have been invariably getting all requested budget increases pretty much every year. A number of city and county commissioners I spoke to in the Gainesville area agreed with me that their budget allocations for police and fire have been excessive, but they feel helpless to do anything about it. They are unable, politically, to slow the growth in fire and police spending, even though these elected officials know that police and fire have long gotten excessive funding.

My research over the years has clearly shown that Gainesville is not alone in this sub-optimizing of police and fire. Nearly all communities have this problem in the US.

Again, when I conclude that police and fire expenditures by local government are excessive (given the above), I am NOT saying that law enforcement and fire protection are not important. Such a services are very important. My point is that it is highly likely that the politics of fear will lead us to sub-optimize on certain services (we spend too much on a service to the detriment of other services).

“If you don’t put another $20 million dollars into the fire department budget, babies will die in burning buildings!” Or “If you don’t give the police department another $15 million, your daughters will be mugged and raped!” These too-often-used scare statements are powerfully effective. How can elected officials not seem insensitive to public safety if they deny this request and instead put more dollars into, say, environmental restoration?

At some point, increased funding for a service leads to diminishing returns. At some point as more and more dollars are spent for the service, each additional dollar spent delivers less and less in the way of better law enforcement and better fire protection.

The federal government spends more on the military than the next eight highest military spending nations on earth COMBINED. When I join others in saying that this is excessive spending, I am NOT saying we should eliminate the military or that the military is not important. What I am saying is that the federal, state and local governments have limited dollars. If we spend too much on certain services, we starve other important services. It is disingenuous nonsense to suggest that those pointing out our expenditures for police or fire (or military) is excessive are, in other words, saying that we don’t value police or fire protection (or democracy). We all agree that such services are essential.

Elected officials are now (in 2012) screaming that the federal government is spending too much, but when reasonable suggestions are made to at least slow the growth in bloated military expenditures, elected officials tell us we must continue our decades long pattern of INCREASING military spending. That by calling for military spending cuts, such people making this suggestion don’t care about reducing terrorism or protecting democracy or having a strong national defense.

Again, this is nonsense.

What are examples of starved services that, like fire and police, provide important quality of life and safety services? A few examples: Environmental protection and restoration of environmentally degraded natural areas, road diets, traffic calming, efforts to reduce noise pollution, parks and recreation, health care, open space acquisition, town and regional planning, bus service, and bike and pedestrian paths, to name a few.

None of the above-mentioned starved services are more important, necessarily, than police and fire, but in my humble opinion, by cutting the budgets of each of these programs (and keeping their budgets tiny), communities in America have, on balance, seen their quality of life become much lower than it could have been had such services not been inadequately funded. Had these starved services gotten more funding (because we opted not to give fire and police a huge budget increase almost annually for several decades), the quality of life would be much higher in American communities.

As an aside, a recent study has found that when roads are widened to reduce fire truck response times (which is done regularly in the Gainesville area), there is an overall INCREASE in the number of injuries and deaths in a city. Why? Because the wider roads increase the in car crashes (due to higher car speeds caused by wider roads) far more than the reduction in the number of injuries and deaths caused by faster fire truck response times.

Yes, police and fire services are essential. But are they so essential that we should continue to allocate enormous sums of public money to them, and only pocket change to all other important public services (or eliminate them completely)? Should police and fire be the only public services provided by a community? Many folks on the Right think that, but I happen to believe there are other public services important enough to deserve a decent budget, rather than be starved.

Allocating a REASONABLE amount to police and fire (which means cutting their budgets drastically, given how much we have hysterically given them big budget increases for so long – like the Pentagon) does NOT mean that we think police and fire are not essential. It DOES mean that some of us don’t think police and fire are the ONLY legitimate public services.

We are starving services much more important to public safety and quality of life than the benefits we get from increasing spending for police and fire services by millions of additional dollars each year. It is time for American communities to recalibrate and rebalance their budget allocations so that police and fire services are not sub-optimized at the expense of other local government services essential to quality of life. In future years, giving less to fire and police services, and more to other essential services, is the effective path to a more pleasant future.

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