Expenditure Categories and Line items

Departmental budgets are often broken down into categories of spending and line items, which allow you to see more information about how their budgets are being spent. Each locality organizes their budget document in different ways and there is not uniform consistency on what is considered an expenditure category or a line item or even on what information is disclosed. We have structured this section to guide you into examining various types of spending you ought to note, but the organization of this information may look different depending on your budget.

Many city budget offices make line item budgets publicly accessible through their website, but not all do. Some localities have public data portals that include additional budget details and line items not found in the official budget documents. If your locality’s budget document or public data portal does not have line items, you should first reach out to the budget office to ask about where you can find line item budgets. See "Where to find all of this information" for additional guidance.

Expenditure categories and line items to note in the police department budget:
  • Personnel
    Personnel expenditures should be analyzed with as much specificity as a budget includes. Depending on the budget, this can be done by classification of job type—such as patrol, administration, investigations, specialized units, operational support, academy/cadets, etc.—and/or by category of expenditure, such as salary, benefits, overtime etc.
    • Overtime
    • Pensions
      Pensions are usually separate from police department budgets in their own category. While cities are usually on the hook for paying for pensions, states often play at least some role in their design. You may need to determine if there is applicable state law that addresses your police pensions.
  • Internal affairs
  • Public and community relations
  • Contracts and services
  • Equipment
    Militarized equipment is often given to departments at low cost or for free, such as through the federal government’s 1033 Program. Less visible surveillance equipment, such as traffic cameras and tracking databases, are often hidden under contracted service agreements or IT expenses. In addition, at least some of the budget for equipment may be in the capital budget. (For more information see, “Demilitarization” metric)
  • Does any portion of the police department’s budget go to alternative programs (such as diversion, violence intervention, or crisis intervention programs)?
  • Miscellaneous
    Some budgets have a “miscellaneous” category that can have a large portion of the budget in it. This is an excellent example of lack of transparency and budget accountability. If this is the case for your locality’s police department budget, you will need to determine how that money is being used through additional tactics, such as hearings, requests to the budget and/or police department, or public information requests. See more details here.
Expenditure categories and line items outside of the police department budget:
  • Police pensions (usually separate from the police department budget)
  • Fringe benefits (some places budget for fringe benefits, like health care, outside of departmental budgets)
  • Debt service (for example, repayment from a police-related consent decree, judgment, or a loan)
  • Legal payments (sometimes police liabilities are paid out of a legal department budget)
  • Civilian review board or police oversight agency budget (if applicable)
  • Off-duty or secondary employment: Does your department have an off-duty or secondary employment policy? How does off-duty or secondary employment billing and payment work? How much money is paid to the department for off-duty or secondary employment?
  • Contracts or other payments in other departments’ budgets that go to the police.
    For example, in New York City, the Department of Education contracts with the NYPD to station police in schools. This contractual expense is reflected in the Department of Education’s budget.