Report shows police spend most on staffing, budget cuts would likely hit staff levels

MADISON, Wis. — As protesters continue calls for defunding police, a new report shows municipal spending on police in Wisconsin has grown 60% since the 80s.

The report from Wisconsin Policy Forum looked at how Wisconsin municipalities have funded police from 1986 through 2018, and it’s not just how much, but where that money is spent most that shows where the conversation around defunding police could center.

“I think it’s really important from us in a future city budget perspective to really take a deep look at that and ask questions about how are we spending our money and are there other things we should be spending it on,” said Alder Grant Foster, District 15.

Foster has been thinking hard about how he and the rest of council will handle the police budget this year. On top of continued community pressure, alders also have to balance a contracted raise for officers and a projected shortfall of at least $20 million.

How that will all work together, he does not know.

“It’s really unclear both how much we could reduce from police funding and what that would mean and what change in service levels residents would have to accept with that, and then how much money we have available to invest in other places,” Foster said.

A new report from the nonpartisan, independent Wisconsin Policy Forum analyzed Wisconsin municipal government spending on law enforcement over 32 years. In that time, police funding went up 60% when adjusted for inflation. While that did not translate to more officers per capita, the vast majority went to staffing costs.

“If you’re talking about, ‘We want to provide more money for the police,’ ‘We want to provide less money for the police,’ what you’re essentially talking about is staffing,” said Jason Stein, the research director at the forum. “It’s not a situation with a very substantial or sizable decrease to a police budget but not affect staffing in some way.”

That’s not lost on Foster, who is anticipating the way Madison polices will have to change as the budget does. He said that could mean police not responding to low-level crimes or noise complaints, among other things.

“We need to be willing to say are we OK if we want to shift some of that money? Are we OK not getting a response to certain kinds of things? That’s the kind of conversations I’d like to start having with the community,” Foster said.