"You picked a great job kid," I recall the salty old veteran saying me to nearly twenty years ago when I first got on the job. He followed up by saying, "As a copper you will never get laid off. Dirt bags are job security." He was wrong. Over the last two decades I narrowly escaped being laid off twice. Facing lay-offs for me wasn't due to any shortage of criminals, but simply economics. What the veteran didn't know and what I came to later find out when I took public budgeting courses as a police supervisor was that an economic downturn in the financial world translates into less tax receipts being collected by your governmental fiscal office. That equates to less of a warrant being assigned for your police chief to spend. In others words, the police department operating budget gets whacked.
So why do cops think that they have job security when everyone else in the working world is being laid off?
The Way It Used To Be
You have probably heard this old saying before, "The best predictor of future performance is past history." Often, this statement is true, but today, when it comes to our economic long-term health it isn't. Throughout our nations history cops were generally not laid off, because even though our nation's unemployment ratings began to creep-up on the chart from time to time, the foundational underpinnings of our economy (ex., manufacturing, value of housing stock, credit lending, etc.) remained stable. When workers were laid off, unemployment benefits kicked in and carried the workers through until the economy returned to its cyclical upswing.
Most police agencies budgets are based on revenue generated from taxation from income, property and sales. If a worker lost his or her job, then a decline in the income tax receipts is often adjusted accordingly from other sources of government income streams (ie., property and sales taxes) and reallocations from other departmental budgets. In other words, cops were not laid off because the money was always there one way or another - as long as those foundational pillars of our economy remained standing. Think of it this way; if your house is standing on four stilts and one stilt falls the house should still stand on the other three stilts. Very rarely do the other three fail simultaneously, causing a massive collapse. Complete failure only occurs in the onslaught of a cataclysmic storm.
Storm Clouds On The Horizon
If you haven't seen the movie "The Perfect Storm" it's a good one. Basically, several weather systems collided at one point and caused a super storm, one whose ravaging strength exceeded predictions because nothing in history had ever been close. I would argue that we are facing a perfect economic storm that will negatively impact policing, the status of security in our society, in ways we won't understand until it is all over and done with. Our country's economic foundational pillars are falling. We can't rely on manufacturing anymore because those jobs have been shipped overseas. There goes the income tax. The housing bubble burst and the value of homes has fallen significantly. In some areas of the country housing values have decreased by 75%. Say good-bye to property taxes. No job? Can't get a loan from the bank because of the credit crunch? It's going to be a dismal holiday shopping season. Sales tax is history.
See where I am going here? The traditional funding sources that government uses to pay for services (police, fire, EMS, etc.) are vanishing. Add other economic risk factors such as high gas prices for example, or the economic impact of a terrorist attack, such as what happened directly after 9/11, and the financial picture gets more and more opaque. So when examining these factors what does history tell us? It doesn't. We are in uncharted territory here. Even the Great Depression can't be used as an examination baseline for what will happen to us financially or how police services will be affected by our nation's financial crisis. The 1930s, for many reasons, was a different time. A huge difference today versus then is that our economy is heavily dependent on the world's economic health. When President Bush met on a Saturday morning with the financial ministers of the world in order to search for a solution to the problem then that is a clue we've entered into a new untested era.
Three weeks ago the national media told us that if Congress didn't pass their bailout bill then our nations economy would fail and we could slip into a 21st Century Economic Depression. The bill passed, but the jury is still out as to whether or not the $700 Billion will actually save our economy. It will take some time before we know the answer. Experts tell us we won't know for another 12 to 18 months if the bailout package actually worked. Our economy is like the Titanic; it can't (and didn't) turn on a dime.
So, until then or until we know, join me in hanging on; it's going to be difficult riding this storm out. Will crime increase as the economy gets worse? Depends on what research paper you read. There is a direct correlation between certain crimes increasing as the unemployment rate soars. Truth is nobody knows for certain. Things have never been this bad. In the mean time, thank God you have a job.