California’s economy has largely recovered from the last recession. Its police departments have not.
In 2008, the first full year of the recession, California cities employed about 40,240 police officers. Last year, they employed about 37,470, a 7 percent decline, according to new figures from the FBI.
During that time, California cities continued to add residents. As a result, the rate of police officers per 10,000 city residents has fallen from 15.9 to 13.9 since 2008, a 13 percent decline.
Some police departments have started hiring again, and the number of officers statewide grew by 1 percent from 2013 to 2015. But that rate of growth was slower than the rate of population increase.
In other words, California police departments remain staffed at a lower level relative to the communities they serve than at any other time in more than a decade.
The city of Sacramento cut police officer positions at a faster rate than most other places because of the economic downturn, pushing its police staffing rate well below the statewide average. Sacramento has started hiring again, running police academies and adding about 35 officers between 2013 and 2015. But it still had about 70 fewer officers in 2015 than it did in 2008, according to the FBI data.
It can take months or years to train police officers. Sacramento also has struggled to retain officers tempted by suburban police departments that pay more.
The effects of lower police staffing are hard to isolate. Factors such as poverty, education and incarceration rates can affect crime trends along with how many officers are on the job. Violent crime generally fell across California between 2008 and 2014, but it jumped across much of the state in 2015.
The trend impacts most Californians. About 80 of the 100 largest police departments had fewer police officers last year than they did in 2008, FBI figures show. The Bee’s analysis excluded sheriff’s departments, which also saw a decline.
Data Tracker is a regular feature that breaks down the numbers behind today’s news. Explore more trends at sacbee.com/datatracker.