Issue 64: Police Budget Controversy

Reply to Issue 58: Why is the Rockland Police Department so Expensive?

By: Maria Devery, Owls Head
(Original article by Becca Shaw Glaser, Rockland)

Wow – I was impressed by the bar chart and the quote by Joe Biden. I have one for Ms. Glaser – Figures lie and liars figure.

After reading the article, and becoming very curious about how Rockland can have the most expensive police department amongst its peer municipalities, I decided to review the data. I did not conduct an analysis of the data – it would have taken far too much time and I am mostly a disinterested party. My interest is in correcting the incorrect information that Ms. Glaser has put out into the Rockland community.

All of the city budgets are available online with the exception of Farmington – I had to request the budget document from the Farmington Town Manager. After reviewing the Farmington budget, I decided to eliminate it from my review. For some inexplicable reason, their budget is half of Rockand’s with a larger geographic footprint and same number of residents. I checked property taxes and they appear to be on par with Rockland, so am at a loss to explain the size of the budget, and the Town Manager could not either.

There are two points that are very significant to Ms Glaser’s analysis that she either omitted or overlooked. The first one is that while the Rockland Police Department has a gross budget of $2,162,778, the net budget is $1,978,028. The Rockland Police department generates significantly more revenue compared to the municipalities in the sample group. The second point and far more serious, is that Ms Glaser assumed that all municipalities account for departmental costs identically. That is a seriously wrong assumption! You can not just read the bottom line as Ms. Glaser appears to have done. You have to actually review the line items within the departmental budget and see if they include the same cost elements.

In the case of Bath, Belfast, and Ellsworth, significant costs like health insurance, retirement costs, and even social security taxes, are aggregated into a municipal wide budget center, giving the appearance that these city police departments are ‘more efficient’ with taxpayer money. The cost per capita that Ms Glaser calculated for these cities did NOT include these significant costs.

I concluded that the analysis, as performed by Ms. Glaser is wrong. Anyone who read the article should discount her conclusion. Since the article’s tone was seditious, contentious, and inflammatory, Ms. Glaser should apologize to the readers and, especially, to the Rockland Police Department. Rockland is not a ‘scary place’ because they are good at their work, and, I am sure, at costs comparable to the sample cities. Perhaps, my letter will motivate Ms. Glaser to redo her analysis and publish an updated article, factoring in the two items discussed above. Let’s wait and see.

Response by Becca Shaw Glaser:

In my article published in The Buzz, “Why is the Rockland Police Department so Expensive?” (May 4, 2018), I wrote about my research comparing Rockland’s police department budget to comparable cities and towns in Maine. I had been surprised that Rockland’s police department was apparently the most expensive per capita. I was interested not only in the financial aspects, but in making sure local police departments are transparent, helpful, and accountable to the communities they are financially supported by.

In doing the research I had to write to most of these towns in order to get their most recent budgets (most of the ones online were several years old) . I sometimes had to ask separately for the police department budgets which weren’t in the initial city budgets I was sent. I waded through these budgets for hours, trying to sort out “General Funds” from “Capital Funds,” “Legal Reserves” and “Debt Service.” I thought my research was thorough and sound, but I am new to looking at city budgets. After it was published, I found out that my calculations comparing police budgets were flawed — because different towns do their budgets in different ways.

It turns out that while Rockland includes things like health care costs for individual departments in each department’s budget, many of the towns I looked at list the individual departments’ health care costs and other info in a generalized category. Therefore the true costs of these towns’ individual department budgets are, in a sense, hidden. This means that when I said that the Rockland police department budget was the most expensive per capita that I found in Maine, I had been comparing data which can’t be precisely compared.

I apologize if anyone feels misled and will try my best to be extra careful with any data I handle in the future.

While the comparisons I was making between some of these towns turns out to not be exact, I would like you to consider these points:

1. For every single child and adult residing in Rockland, the police department’s gross budget for FY ’17 was $300 per capita. In Rockland, for FY ’17, the police department costs 16% ofthe entire city’s gross budget, and 26% of the net budget (when not including schools and county costs). This is a high percentage of our budget, i.e. our taxes. Whether Rockland’s department is more expensive than everywhere else or not, we still need to be inspecting its high cost.

2. When I looked again at the towns I had compared to Rockland, both Camden and Augusta, like Rockland, include the costs of health insurance for the police department in their police budget breakdowns, and in both cases, Rockland’s per capita cost is higher. It’s possible I am missing some numbers hidden away somewhere, but they look to me like they are calculated the same way as Rockland.

3. As far as measuring and comparing revenues it’s difficult as well, because some towns break their budgets down so differently. In Bath, for instance, the revenue of departments is not broken down by department in any of the materials I used, so we can’t actually compare how much the Bath Police Department brings in versus another town. And in Ellsworth, the relevant revenue is listed under “Public Safety”—which is a combination of fire and police departments.

4. There is nothing so sanctimonious and precious about any particular city entity that we pay for that we can’t ask why it costs what it does.

We also need to ask how that department functions: are its employees being treated well, paid a living wage, and feeling good about their work? Are its employees treating people in the city well, serving the needs of all of us—especially the most vulnerable: the poorest, the sickest, the youngest, the oldest, the ones considered “different”—and being open to learning more skills to support people as new needs arise? Is the department trying to conserve money, is it trying to be environmentally responsible? Does its department need to be so large?

Further, are there things we need in the city that aren’t being addressed by that department that might be done better by a different department entirely?

5. Every police department should have a Citizen Review Board, even if there is no perception of a problem with policing. Often these problems are not seen by those in power or in the more privileged rungs of society. An independent board which oversees police departments and the complaints against them creates more community trust and accountability. It is a far healthier way to proceed than having a group investigate its own self.

In the original article, I linked to the International Association of Chiefs of Police website where they discuss Citizen Review Boards. They write, “Addressing citizen review provides an opportunity for leadership—a chance for a chief to take an initiative on accountability, an opportunity to educate the public on a complex issue, and an opportunity to work collaboratively to arrive at a decision that meets both police and community concerns. Police leaders need not, and must not, end up in a reactive stance, leaving the issue of citizen oversight to be raised by others in government or the community.”

6. I also referenced wanting to find out how many AR-15s the Rockland Police Department may have. They were requesting mounts for AR-15s in their vehicles for this next year’s budget. I think we deserve to know how militarized the department is.

Also, do they always have to carry guns (in many other countries they do not) and have large, hulking, inefficient vehicles?

7. We also deserve to know the type of training they get on mental health issues, harm reduction, domestic violence, trauma, sexual assault; poverty, disability, and more diversity awareness; substance abuse disorder, other medical issues; de-escalation, alternatives to court systems and incarceration; and on working with local groups who might be better able to handle the situations at hand.

Are they learning good self-awareness, techniques for decompressing from difficult situations they encounter, and anger management? Where can we see the training materials they are given? It’s a difficult job, and they should be getting good training so they can be as healthy as possible in their jobs and afterwards, and as care-ful and de-escalating as possible in difficult situations.

While some people have felt this was a sacrilegious subject, I am glad to have been part of bringing this discussion to the public forum. I hope we can agree that we want the people who visit, work and live here to feel safe, supported, and like there are resources to help us in the best possible ways when we need help. If our resources aren’t meeting our needs—and yes, we are being starved out by the rich and corporations to be at each other’s throats fighting over crumbs, when there really is a lot more to go around, and a lot more creative ideas to be considered when it comes to what it means to strive for a safe and healthy community—then we need to work to fix the systems so that there is better support for all of us.

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