Where to find all of this information

This section is meant to be exhaustive in order to provide information to people coming from a wide range of local contexts. If you're utilizing this tool as an elected official or a staffer in an elected official’s office, you will likely have a different set of tools at your disposal—including annual budget hearings, oversight hearings, access to an auditor or comptroller’s office, and other information requests—which you should use to gather the relevant info.

The police department’s line item budget will likely have most of the information outlined above.

Other places to look:

  • Police department annual reports
  • The police department website
  • Your locality’s public data portal or “financial transparency” portal, if applicable
  • Your locality’s legislative information system, if applicable, for required appropriations (via Ways & Means, e.g.) and/or contract approvals
  • Your locality’s human resources pay schedule, which should include salary ranges for officers (HR department)
  • A department-by-department staffing report showing how many positions are budgeted for each department and how many of those positions are vacant (Budget office, HR department, or mayor’s/city manager’s office)
  • Organizational charts for the city and police departments, preferably with staffing numbers (Budget office, HR department, or mayor’s/city manager’s office)
  • City or County-wide comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFR)
  • Citywide program inventory, if possible (This would be an inventory of each department’s activities and the budget for each activity. It will also often include a narrative and performance measures for each activity. Not all localities ask their departments to provide this information centrally.) (Budget office, HR department, or mayor’s/city manager’s office)
  • Look for budget related sources on the state level. Some State Comptroller Offices (also known as State Auditors or State Controllers) collect broad data from local governments about spending that can reveal changes in spending over time.
  • City council meeting minutes
  • Press statements
  • Police department sworn officers’ collective bargaining agreement and police department civilian workforce’s collective bargaining agreement, if applicable.
  • Auditor’s office. If an existing report does not exist, request that a study is conducted to gather missing information. (See, for example, the Portland City Auditor’s study of police overtime.)

If you cannot find this information in any of those locations or other public documents that are not listed above, you can use the following strategies:

Obtaining additional information when public data is lacking

The following is a list of strategies for obtaining additional budget information that is unavailable via public documents:

Develop a list of outstanding questions.
You can begin by compiling a comprehensive list of outstanding questions. For example, you might want information about specific expenditures that are not listed in the budget (overtime, for example), stats about staffing levels, or clarity about particular line item expenses.
Speak with your budget office or your comptroller or auditor.
If you need help interpreting information in budget documents or want to find out whether additional information is available, you might first try to contact a budget analyst through your local budget office. Another avenue to consider is your locality’s auditor or comptroller, which can often have the capacity and expertise to conduct a deep budget analysis.
Contact the police department directly.
You could try contacting your police department directly to see if they would willingly share any of the information you need for your analysis. (And if they refuse, this is a good opportunity to point to a lack of transparency and accountability to the public around data sharing.) Police departments sometimes have a staffer who will interface with the public and may have answers to some of your data questions.
Bring your questions to budget meetings and hearings and community meetings and ask your colleagues for answers.
The act of asking questions in a public forum is an important signal to other local leaders and community members that you are paying attention and demanding transparency.
Submit a public records request.
You can submit a formal request for information to your city’s budget office, often by email or online form, to which they are legally required to respond. In crafting your request:
  • Make sure that each question is a discrete ask to ensure that you receive a response to each question (and not, for example, to just one component of your question.)
  • Be specific about all of the years for which you want information. (For example, you might want information about the current fiscal year compared to previous fiscal years--be sure to specify all years you are interested in.)
  • Ensure that your questions are specific enough to garner information that is useful to you. If questions are too broad or general, the agency may submit an overwhelming quantity of data that is too difficult to parse through for meaningful answers.
  • You should include all potential versions of any names or phrases that you want searched for. For example, if you are asking about something that is often referred to by an acronym, include the acronym in your request (for example, both “Local Progress” and “LP”). You may also want to reach out to the person that manages the public records request to clarify if they only search for records with your exact words or if they include all related words or phrases.
  • While each state and locality have slightly different public records laws, here are a few general guides for how to submit requests:
Enact new public data or information laws or implement transparency guidelines or regulations.
Requiring departments to disclose all sources and amounts of revenue, greater detail in expenditures, and other information. Part of your work may need to be a fight for greater transparency in your locality’s budget and budget process. Visit the Reform/Transform "Data and Transparency" metric for more info.