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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.            

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, the city’s finance department studied other jurisdictions – overall population, number of sworn police officers, overall police budgets, – 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.

Don't forget to check out and of this series. 

Linda Karr April 05, 2011 at 04:09 PM
Well said Bob. Seems to me that Mr. Zimmerman has twisted his numbers to match his twisted thinking. Every statistic I've ever seen, shows Bradenton as a higher crime city than Sarasota, so I have no idea where he is getting his numbers. We have one of the finest police departments with upstanding officers. I am thankful to have them, and grateful that they are willing to put their lives on the line to protect my way of life. Perhaps Mr. Zimmerman should try riding along with an officer sometime, preferably a night shift in the north district, and then he could gain an appreciation for what they do. As far as their new building is concerned, I think it is about time we got them out of that dark, mold infested building that they have been working in for years. Sarasota is a beautiful city,with all kinds of beautiful buildings and homes. With all the money in this city, I think it has been a disgrace that we have left our police officers to work in a building that was in such poor condition, that it has now been condemed. No, Mr Zimmerman, I do not agree with you estimation of our police department. Instead, I send out a big thank you to the group of men and women who serve our city well. I appreciate their dedication and hard work.
Stan Zimmerman April 05, 2011 at 10:12 PM
Mr. Williams and Ms. Karr, thanks for your comments. And for using real names, unlike so many who post behind a mask. A couple of comments. The source of all the statistics are carefully noted in the story. Yes, Ms. Karr, I've been on ride-alongs with the SPD, and several other departments over the years. I've covered murders and kidnappings, been to more crime scenes than I want to remember. I've covered every SPD chief since Scott, starting in 1975. I was asked by Chief Abbott to be one of the people on the citizen task-force to promote the bond issue which led to the new SPD HQ. I think I have a fair appreciation of the department, after covering it on-and-off for 35 years. It is my job to observe and write about civic institutions, and one costing the 53,000 citizens of Sarasota $26 million every year is no exception. These stories used real numbers – arrests and incarcerations and dollars – to look at the performance of the SPD. Yes, I have a bias. I've seen murdered people up close, murdered in any number of different and unusual ways (thanks to my coverage of the Cocaine Cowboys on the east coast). But lots of people have tough jobs, and are held accountable for their performance. If you disagree, then what standards would you use?
Bruce Rice April 06, 2011 at 01:57 AM
As a former police officer I suppose I am somewhat biased, but you have to remember one thing, you get what you pay for. It is very true that the Sarasota Police Department costs a lot of money but do the Taxpayers of Sarasota want a "lesser" department at less cost ? Personally I don't have a problem with the price we are paying for our Police Department. BRUCE RICE
Scott Clarke April 06, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Bruce, if the sarasota police receive less pay, or more importantly less costly benefits (pensions & healthcare) are you saying they won't work as hard to protect us? I'd say as a former police officer, you are more than "somewhat" biased.
Bruce Rice April 06, 2011 at 08:12 PM
No Scott that is not what I meant, most Law Enforcement Officers, if not all, provide the best service they can, if, during the cost of negotiations, which has happened, wages and benefits are reduced they will continue to provide the best service they can to the public. Unfortunately in most cases the size of the force is reduced leaving the community with fewer officers which results in less protection. This is happening across the United States and in these cases the criminal is the beneficiary.

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