Research Paper proposing to outsource non-core tasks to private agents in order to make the best use of scarce police time and public resources while making our communities safer and increasing officers’ job satisfaction
The demands on police in non-criminal areas have grown as governments have saddled officers with increasing responsibilities divorced from their core mission. With pressure coming from all sides, including recent calls to “defund the police,” this new MEI paper proposes to outsource non-core tasks to auxiliary private security agents in order to make the best use of scarce police time and public resources.
|Privatizing police duties could save cities like NYC hundreds of millions to focus on crime: study (New York Post, September 26, 2022)
Police need to be police, not paper-pushers (Los Angeles Daily News, September 28, 2022)
This Research Paper was prepared by Krystle Wittevrongel, Senior Policy Analyst and Alberta Project Lead at the MEI, Olivier Rancourt, Economist at the MEI, and Arthur Rizer, Associate Researcher at the MEI.
The core mission of policing is to control crime. However, the demands on officers in non-criminal areas have grown as governments have saddled officers with increasing responsibilities. To make the best use of scarce police time and public resources while also offering the highest level of public safety, we propose the incorporation of auxiliary private security agents in non-core areas such as administration and other ancillary tasks. By concentrating more of officers’ time on the specialized tasks which presumably led them to become officers in the first place, their job satisfaction will also likely increase, which itself will increase public safety.
Chapter 1 – The Core and Non-Core Competencies of Police Work
- Core policing functions typically involve responding to emergencies, ensuring public safety, investigating criminal activity, and enforcing the law. It is these functions for which police officers receive specialized training to successfully develop their cognitive, physical, emotional, interpersonal, and social skills.
- Research shows that officers are spending increasing amounts of time on tasks that do not utilize these specialized skillsets. In fact, studies have shown officers to spend a vast majority of their time—approximately 82% to 90%—on incidents not directly related to crime.
- Such “time sinks” do not necessarily require expert skills, a high level of physical fitness, fine-tuned emotional or interpersonal skills, or the full powers of arrest.
- For instance, a striking amount of an officer’s day is spent on administrative tasks and report writing, which absorb anywhere from 21% to 50% of a police officer’s total time.
- It is in such time-consuming areas that private agents can specialize to relieve the demands on police officers’ time, resulting in higher efficiency and productivity, and ultimately an enhanced quality of policing.
- Areas such as administration, traffic control, and the operation of sobriety checkpoints are all prime examples of tasks that can be offloaded to private agents. This will lead to considerable cost savings (compared to having police officers perform them), and a likely boost in policing efficiency due to increased job satisfaction for officers.
Chapter 2 – Cost Savings Through Delegation of Non-Core Tasks to Auxiliary Private Security Agents
- Fully 89% of officers surveyed in 2021 (and 85% of police chiefs and command staff) reported that administrative requirements limit the time they are able to spend in the community. This means less policing—both proactive (crime prevention) and reactive (responding to calls and undertaking investigations).
- We estimate annual savings, in USD, of nearly $35.3 million for the Miami-Dade PD, almost $22 million for the Milwaukee PD, and over $177.4 million for the LAPD, if only 75% of the administrative burden were offloaded to private agents.
- Recent estimates show that traffic control or minor traffic incidents absorb 13% to 19% of an officer’s time, depending on the jurisdiction. Typically, these sorts of responses do not require the attention of a police officer.
- Offloading 75% of traffic management duties to trained private agents has the potential to save an enormous amount of time and money for police departments: $17.4 million for the MDPD, almost $11 million for the MPD, and $87.7 million for the LAPD.
- While there is a need for sworn officers with the power of arrest at sobriety checkpoints, there are also tasks that need not be carried out by such officers, such as conducting initial screenings, operating breathalyzers, and managing traffic.
- By divesting 75% of sobriety checkpoint labor to private agents, we estimate that the MDPD could save nearly $374,000 and the LAPD nearly $571,000 per year—annual savings of 38.9% and 42.8%, respectively.
- Both the United Kingdom and the United States have experience shifting non-core policing tasks to private agents which suggests that there are real efficiencies that can be achieved, with potentially significant benefits in terms of enhanced public safety and cost savings.
- The Lincolnshire Police signed a 10-year contract with a private security company in 2012 and were able to save £18 million in the first three years of the contract ($27.5 million in 2015, or $34.4 million today) by outsourcing administrative duties and several minor tasks. As costs fell and police officers could dedicate more time to their core tasks, so too did the crime rate fall, by 14% in the first year.
Chapter 3 – Practicality and Feasibility – Phase-In Options
- For at least a decade, police departments have been facing increased resignations, decreased applicants, and an impending “retirement bubble,” and the number of resignations has increased significantly over the past two years—in some of the country’s largest police forces, retirement rates are up nearly 30% and hiring has fallen 5%.
- The time is thus optimal to consider a gradual phasing in of supplemental auxiliary private security agents. By slowly integrating private agents, a more harmonious division of labor can be achieved while also capitalizing on the current workforce crisis in the United States with regard to police officers.
- A slow integration of private agents over a 15-year period is possible, whereby the composition of staffing changes while total personnel levels remain constant with 2020 staffing levels, thereby focusing on maximizing the benefit to taxpayers.
- By year 15, this gradual phasing-in of auxiliary private security agents generates an annual savings of nearly $180 million for the LAPD, $35 million for the MDPD, and $22 million for the MPD, while maintaining the same level of policing.
- Alternatively, if reducing the costs associated with the provision of this public service is not one of the primary goals, it is possible to maximize the total number of professionals who can be deployed while keeping budgets at the same level.
- In this case, over a 15-year period, our model estimates that the number of personnel associated with the LAPD increases by 30.2% through the hybridized addition of police and private agents, while keeping costs stable.
The proposal in this paper, far from being unrealistic or fanciful, accurately reflects and appropriately responds to the realities on the ground for policing in the United States. Every hour police spend on non-core activities is an hour less that can be spent actually controlling and preventing crime. Outsourcing non-core tasks to private agents will make our communities safer, preserve public resources, and increase officers’ job satisfaction.
In recent years, police have been under pressure from all sides. Complaints of excessive force have mounted, especially since the death of George Floyd in 2020. The criticism has sparked calls for reform which have left many officers feeling that they are under fire, and retirements are on the rise.(1) The current President of the United States has made it clear that crime prevention will include increased spending on policing, not a defunding or cutting of budgets.(2) Yet recent calls to “defund the police” by shifting funding to social services have drawn particular attention to the ever-expanding role of police officers.
The core mission of policing is to control crime.(3) However, the demands on officers in non-criminal areas have grown as governments have saddled officers with increasing responsibilities divorced from this core mission. In fact, studies across the United States show that activities related to crime control or investigation account for only 10% to 18% of an officer’s time.(4) When it comes to violent crime, this number is even lower, with recent data from a number of major American cities indicating that the share of a police officer’s total time on duty dedicated to preventing or controlling violent crime is only about 4%.(5)
This expanding role has resulted in a growing mismatch between officers trained to handle core policing services (such as those related to emergency response, criminal investigations, and enforcing laws) and those non-core services that would be better handled by other professionals.(6) For example, dealing with social issues such as homelessness, mental health, and addictions has required officers to become de facto nurses and social workers.(7) In 1970, patrol officers spent approximately 14% of their time on calls related to mental illness and other social services.(8) By 2020, it was estimated that fully 20% of police calls now involve a mental health or substance use crisis.(9)
Moreover, not only are officers generally spending more time engaged with responsibilities more akin to social services, but they are also spending increasing amounts of time on certain non-core administrative functions, such as report-writing.(10) The diversion of police time to non-core tasks means officers are less able to focus directly on public safety, further reducing productivity and efficiency.
This is where the economic principles of division of labor and specialization come in. In the Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith—considered the founding father of economics as a science—attributes the greatest improvement of productivity to the division of labor.(11) By breaking production into a number of smaller tasks, efficiency can be improved through specialization. By doing more of a single task, productivity increases and work is simplified.(12) These principles have been tested empirically time and time again, demonstrating that a higher degree of specialization leads to higher productivity.(13)
In the context of policing, refocusing on core tasks inherently involves a finer division of labor. The core competencies of police officers make them specialized, and adding layers of non-core tasks on top of these undoubtedly leads to efficiency loss. The person apprehending and arresting a violent offender does not need to be the same person that logs hours of routine interactions with the public or drafts reports relating to arrest statistics. Offloading these non-core tasks fosters efficiency.
Simply increasing spending on police does not address these inefficiencies, and historically, more police spending in the United States has not correlated with lower crime rates.(14) Thus, to make the best use of scarce police time and public resources while also offering the highest level of public safety, deeper and broader reforms are necessary. To address the growing mismatch between what police actually do and where their added value for society is, we propose the incorporation of auxiliary private security agents (hereafter referred to as “private agents”) in non-core areas, such as administration and other ancillary tasks.(15)
These trained non-officer professionals, lacking the police powers of arrest, will serve as “force multipliers” who, through the division of labor, will enhance the reach and effectiveness of existing police resources. By offloading non-core tasks to these private agents, both groups will be able to specialize and the productivity and efficiency of police forces will improve, as empirically, a higher degree of specialization leads to higher productivity.(16) In addition, by concentrating more of officers’ time on the specialized and demanding tasks for which they were trained and which presumably led them to become officers in the first place, their job satisfaction will likely increase. The use of private agents may therefore also be important in addressing problems of officer recruitment and retention.(17) And because the acid test of any policing reform must be its effects on public safety, we also posit, with real-life examples to support this contention, that employing trained private agents to take on non-core policing tasks will help to drive down the crime rate as police focus on their core policing function.
Using three of the largest police departments in the United States—the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD), and the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD)—as case studies,(18) this research paper explores how the supplementation of policing with private security agents can enhance public safety, improve officer morale and retention, and reduce the pressure on public funds.
To set the stage, a description of policing in the United States is provided in the first chapter, including core and non-core police tasks. This is useful in understanding how specialization can improve police efficiency.(19)
The second chapter introduces the idea of private agents as force multipliers, and how the roles and responsibilities of these agents can serve to amplify the response of the police through specialization.(20) Through a number of distinct scenarios, we highlight how the division of labor can effectively reduce the cost of public services. Furthermore, in the final section of this chapter, we discuss how reforms of this type have been structured in a number of jurisdictions, with results ranging from reduced public spending to increased job satisfaction for police officers to enhanced public safety.
Finally, in the third chapter, we discuss the feasibility of supplementing police forces with private agents, and some considerations in doing so, through two measured simulations. First, we show how police departments can relieve some of the public cost burden over time while keeping the number of professionals stable. Alternatively, we show how we can maximize number of professionals while keeping costs stable.
- Sonia Moghe, Ray Sanchez, and Mark Morales, “As U.S. cities cut police budgets, the nation’s largest force faces financial reckoning,” CTV News, June 27, 2020; Arthur Rizer and Mike Ward, “Why the feds should take notes on Kentucky police reform,” Courier Journal, April 8, 2021; Neil MacFarquhar, “Why Police Have Been Quitting in Droves in the Last Year,” The New York Times, July 14, 2021; Eric Westervelt, “Cops Say Low Morale and Department Scrutiny Are Driving Them Away from the Job,” NPR, June 24, 2021.
- Zolan Kanno-Youngs, “Biden Aims to Bolster Police Departments as Homicides Increase,“ The New York Times, July 12, 2021.
- Mark H. Moore, Robert Trojanowicz, and George L. Kelling, “Crime and Policing,” Perspectives on Policing, National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, and the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, No. 2, June 1988, p. 1.
- In Cincinnati, Ohio, between April 1997 and April 1998, community-oriented and beat officers spent only 10% of their time dealing directly with crime. Another study was conducted in the patrol division of a police force (which accounted for 43% of officers and 41% of the police budget) over a 54-week period in the United States. Crimes against persons consumed 2.96% of patrol officer’s time and crimes against property 14.82%. It is important to note that data are collected and reported differently depending on the jurisdiction and definitions of crime applied. Brad W. Smith, Kenneth J. Novak, and James Frank, “Community Policing and the Work Routines of Street-Level Officers,” Criminal Justice Review, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2001, p. 26; John A. Webster, “Police Task and Time Study,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 61, No. 1, 1970, p. 95.
- This value is based on recent data for New Orleans, LA, Montgomery County, MD, and Sacramento, CA. It is important to note that data are collected and reported differently depending on the jurisdiction and definitions of crime applied. Jeff Asher and Ben Horwitz, “How Do Police Actually Spend Their Time?” The New York Times, June 19, 2020.
- Barry Friedman, “Amid Calls to ‘Defund,’ How to Rethink Policing,” The Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2020.
- Arthur Rizer and Jonathan Haggerty, “The Medicalization of the Police,” The American Interest, June 14, 2018.
- This study was conducted in a mid-size police department’s patrol division, and social service calls were defined as those that did not meet the criteria of crimes against persons or property, or patrolmen-initiated activity, traffic, or administration. These include family crisis, incidents involving drunkenness, suicide, and mental illness, ambulance service, and public nuisances, etc. These absorbed 13.7% of an officer’s time. John A. Webster, “Police Task and Time Study,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 61, No. 1, 1970, pp. 95 and 99.
- Comparing the 14% and 20% in this paragraph is a little like comparing apples to oranges, but what it does highlight is that while a 6% increase in volume dedication is striking in and of itself, it would indeed be much higher than this if one were to include all of the calls related to family crisis, incidents involving drunkenness, suicide, and mental illness, ambulance service, and public nuisances, etc., that are included in the estimate from 1970. Eric Westervelt, “Mental Health and Police Violence: How Crisis Intervention Teams Are Failing,” NPR, September 18, 2020.
- Nuance Communications, Inc., “Dragon Law Enforcement 2019 Role of Technology in Law Enforcement Paperwork annual report,” October 2019, p. 2.
- The Adam Smith Institute, “The Wealth of Nations,” consulted June 23, 2022.
- Caroline Ntara, “What is Division of Labor?” October 2, 2021.
- Guido Friebel and Levent Yilmaz, “Flexibility, specialization and individual productivity: Evidence from Call Center data,” Available from SSRN, September 2012, pp. 9-12.
- Philip Bump, “Over the past 60 years, more spending on police hasn’t necessarily meant less crime,” The Washington Post, June 7, 2020.
- Note that by auxiliary private security agents, we are not referring to personnel who operate in malls (“mall cops”) or who are intended to be restricted to gated communities. Rather, these agents will be incorporated in police forces such that they operate like paralegals with respect to lawyers, in a symbiotic relationship for the benefit of all residents in the areas where the police department operates.
- Guido Friebel and Levent Yilmaz, op. cit., footnote 13.
- Henry L. Tosi, John Rizzo, and Neal P. Mero, Managing Organizational Behavior, Wiley-Blackwell, 2000, pp. 134-135, cited in Jae Vanden Berghe, Job Satisfaction and Job Performance at the Work Place, Arcada, Degree Thesis International Business, 2011, p. 18.
- By number of officers, in 2020, the LAPD was the third largest in the US with 9,870 officers, the MDPD is eighth largest with 2,723 officers, and the MPD is twentieth largest with 1,879 officers. A more thorough description of each department is presented in Appendix A. Ellen Kershner, “The Largest Police Departments in the US,” World Atlas, August 3, 2020.
- The culture of policing and the educational and training requirements of officers are further discussed and detailed in Appendix A.
- The educational and training requirements for private security agents are detailed in Appendix B.