The Great Recession forced cities grappling with a drop in revenues to slash their budgets in hopes of stemming the financial bleeding. Nothing was safe, including police, fire and emergency medical services.
NerdWallet studied 239 cities with populations of 100,000 or more that provide police and fire services to see which ones survived recession-forced budget and personnel cuts. The study was designed to find out what level of investment each city makes toward comprehensive policing services as well as fire and medical emergency services.
The study uncovered lots of interesting details and takeaways. For instance, most cities that make significant investments in their police departments are also using data to fight crime. The study found that these cities statistically analyze crime data to efficiently allocate their resources.
And while a higher ratio of police staff (that means officers and civilian staff) to population doesn't ensure low crime rates, eight of the top 10 cities listed in the study reduced either violent crime or property crime rates between 2010 and 2012.
So, what city is the top of the heap in terms of public safety spending? The nation's capital.
Washington D.C. has more than 68 police staff for every 10,000 residents, giving it the highest police-to-population ratio of any city in NerdWallet's study. The city has 4,332 police staff—the most of any city in the study—and 1,600 fire staff, the fourth-highest behind Memphis, Baltimore and Boston.
In terms of fire staff per capita, Washington D.C. is sixth, behind leader Birmingham, Ala., New Haven, Conn., Memphis, Hartford, Conn. and Baltimore.
The rest of the top 10 cities that invest the most resources in public safety are:
2. Birmingham, Ala.: has more fire staff per capita than any other city in the study. The city has more than 52 police staff for every 10,000 residents. In spite of that high police-to-population ratio, Birmingham still has some of the highest property crime rate of any city on the list.
The city also uses advanced tech to fight crime. ShotSpotter is a gunfire alert system that instantly triangulates and reports gunshots to the department.
3. Baltimore, Md.: has an extensive infrastructure of fire, EMS and special operations teams. And it's well used.The city responds to more than 270,000 emergencies per year and operates 36 advanced life support medic units, according to NerdWallet.
4. St. Louis, Mo.: has more than 58 police staff for every 10,000 residents. The high ratio is one factor that could be responsible for pushing violent crimes down 8.76 percent and property crime rates down 19.50 percent between 2010 and 2012.
5. Memphis, Tenn.: has one of the highest fire staff-to-population ratios that NerdWallet analyzed. The city police department focuses on strategy, data-driven crime fighting. For instance, Operation Blue Crush analyzes information on crime types, locations and the times of day and week when crimes occur.
6. Hartford, Conn.: operates 12 fire companies throughout the city. The department also provides services beyond fire and EMS, including hazardous material response, public education and rescue services.
7. New Haven, Conn.: has the second-highest fire staff-to-population ratio of the cities in the study.
8. Newark, N.J.: has more than 47 personnel for every 10,000 residents. But its violent and property crime increased between 2010 and 2012. The city's police department was subject of a federal investigation.
9. Boston, Mass.: has more than 26 fire personnel for every 10,000 residents. That high figure has helped the department respond to emergencies quickly. In 2010, the fire department responded to 69,859 total incidents, 72 percent of which received response in less than four minutes.
10. Atlanta, Ga.: has more than 49 police personnel and 22 fire personnel for every 10,000 residents. The police department is developing an Integrated Predictive Policing model to track criminal trends.
Graphic: NerdWallet; Thumbnail photo: Flcikr user Elvert Barnes