Initial topline budget analysis

As you embark on your budget analysis, here are some fundamental questions to start with. See our guidance on where to find this information here.

How much is the police department’s budget?

What percentage of the total budget goes to the police department?

How much of the police budget is from the general fund?
What percentage of the total general fund goes to the police department?
In the past few budget cycles, how closely do adopted expenses align with actual expenditures?
Most budget documents will include the last three to four years’ budget numbers in their budget tables. Previous years’ numbers (usually any older than the previous year) will be “actual” budgets, or what was actually spent. You can compare the “actual” numbers with the approved budget. For example, in your locality’s 2020-21 budget, you should be able to find the 2018-19 actual budget numbers. Compare those numbers with the approved numbers for 2018-2019 in the 2018-19 budget document. This will allow you to see if the police department tends to spend more than is budgeted for. It is most common to find this discrepancy because of overtime expenses. If the police department tends to underspend, that is also a red flag that could indicate that they are given too much “slack” into their budget and be another argument for reducing it.
How much of the police budget is from restricted funds or grants?

(e.g. funds that are inflexible and can only be used for specified purposes)?

Does the police department generate its own revenue via fines, traffic citations, etc.? If so, how much revenue does each of these sources produce?

Over the last few years, how much has been budgeted for overtime and how much has been spent?
Overtime is very important. Police departments routinely overspend their allocated overtime budgets, a practice that is often subject to little scrutiny or transparency. It will likely be important to address overtime spending as a key part of your strategy related to personnel costs.
How much of your capital budget goes to the police department?
It may be useful for you to look at the last 5 years to get a general sense of how much of the capital budget is given to the police department because it will vary year to year. Note that the capital budget is often in a different budget document from the operating budget. Determine the total amount going to the police department and its percentage of the total capital budget.

What projects (i.e. new precincts or updates to existing infrastructure, new equipment, etc.) are underway or about to start? How much is each project?

Do a multi-year analysis of key budget totals, which will allow you to compare spending patterns across departments. Over the past 3-5 years:

How have the city or county’s general fund and total operating budget changed (i.e. calculate the difference in total and the percentage change)?

How does this increase/decrease compare to changes in the budgets of the police department and other programs/departments of interest over the same period of time (again, compare both differences in total and the percent change)