The High Cost of Sarasota Police
This is the third part of four in an investigation into the arrest numbers and finances of the Sarasota Police Department.
The Sarasota Police Department is the single most expensive item in the city budget. The annual police budget requires more money than all the property taxes collected in the city each year. In this fiscal year, the city will raise $16.1 million in property taxes; it will pay for an SPD budget of $25 million. The difference comes from other sources of revenue. The police budget dwarfs all the other city budget items combined.
In reality, the $26 million does not reflect the true cost, because other city departments support the SPD. These include costs for human resources, payroll, some legal fees and purchasing, which are absorbed by other departments. Conversely other city departments make money off the SPD. The department pays $200 to the public works department for an oil change on a cruiser, for example. Determining the true cost of the department is virtually impossible.
The city finance department estimates the actual cost for the SPD is a figure of approximately $31 million, or nearly twice the amount of money raised by property taxes.
This $31 million figure does not include amortization of the new $50 million police headquarters on Adams Lane.
If the building lasts 50 years, you can add an additional $1 million per year (to simplify things) to the annual cost of the SPD.
How are similar municipalities doing?
This is tricky. An oranges-to-oranges comparison is nearly impossible. The Bradenton Police Department, for example, has one K-9 unit. Sarasota has four. Fort Myers has one police boat; Sarasota has two, but only one maritime officer. Does the Bradenton PD budget include purchasing and human resources? Does Fort Myers have a bomb-squad robot? City police departments are not identical.
But some basis of comparison is possible. At the request of the Police Review Panel, the city’s finance department studied other jurisdictions – overall population, number of sworn police officers, overall police budgets, crime rates and calls for service – in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. It tried to winnow their budgets down to a common denominator.
The cities of Bradenton, Delray Beach, Ft. Myers, North Miami, North Port and Pensacola were studied, among others. Populations ranged from Sarasota’s 53,160 up to Ft. Myers 68,819. Most are coastal communities.
Sarasota’s crime rate was the second highest of the cities evaluated (77.0), while Bradenton’s was 52.9. Pensacola was 58.2 and Ft. Myers was 60.3. Only North Miami was higher at 77.8. Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston was recently heard boasting that for the first time, his city had a lower crime rate than Sarasota.
Most telling was the number of sworn officers per 1,000 in population. Sarasota was at the top with 3.3, Bradenton was 2.2 and Ft. Myers was 2.6. North Miami was 2.19. In other words, Sarasota is fielding half-again as many officers per capita than similar sized and situated Florida cities.
The trickiest issue is cost. City police budgets vary wildly, depending on what’s included (who changes the oil?). The Sarasota City Finance Department tried to answer that question, cutting to the core services only. It is an admittedly rough estimation of costs, but the only one attempting an apples-to-apples comparison.
Their analysis showed Bradenton PD’s budget is $11.9 million, and Sarasota’s is $25.5 million – more than twice as much. The two cities are virtually identical in area and population. In the cost per person, Bradenton citizens pay $220.30 each for their police; Sarasota citizens pay $480.18.
North Miami, with the highest crime rate of the cities surveyed, pays $393.11 per person. Ft. Myers has a $29 million police budget, with 48,819 citizens, for $422.78 each.